Advocacy Assessment & Grading Family Engagement Parent Voice

If letter grades count, shouldn’t parent rights?

Lately, I’ve been talking about parent/guardian rights and specifically our right to be involved in our children’s education and in our children’s schools. (Read the previous post in this series here.)

With instruction happening via Crisis Distance Learning this fall, it has become more and more clear that many parents are being denied access to this basic and important right.

As parents, we can’t be involved in our children’s education if we don’t have the ability to review the work they are assigned in class. We can’t partner with teachers if educators don’t share grading policies and academic expectations. We can’t monitor, advocate, or support our kids if we don’t have direct access to their assignments, textbooks, or curriculum.

What the district says…

Last Tuesday, at the Board of Education staff, presented the SFUSD Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan for Fiscal Year
2020 – 2021
for approval. In it the document states:

“We heard clearly from students, staff, and families, that connection, clarity, and consistency are areas that need to be addressed in distance learning.”

SFUSD Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan for Fiscal Year
2020 – 2021
, p. 10

In response to family feedback, the district states in the section titled: “Access to Devices and Connectivity [A description of how the LEA will ensure access to devices and connectivity for all pupils to support distance learning.] “

“SFUSD remains committed to assisting all students in need of technology and will continue to work diligently to ensure all students remain engaged as we begin distance learning in August. Spring device and internet connectivity distribution focused on students in grades 3-12. We are committed to increasing access to include students in grades PK-2. 

Digital learning in SFUSD takes place online through a learning management system. A Learning Management System (LMS) is an application used as an online learning classroom or hub. It is where teachers can post and receive assignments, provide ongoing feedback to students, and communicate learning back to families. Seesaw is SFUSD’s official LMS for grades PK-2, while Google Classroom is our LMS for grades 3-12. 

Virtual interactions with students require a strong understanding of digital agency and thoughtful consideration of how to best meet students’ learning needs. The Guide to Virtual Meetings with Students contains information regarding digital agency, norms for online learning resources, as well as information on selecting the best tool for virtual meetings with students. 

In addition to accessing learning through management systems like Seesaw, Google, and Zoom, the SFUSD Digital Backpack is a collection of district-approved tools that have been vetted for safety and privacy. Backpacks are personalized for each student based on their school and grade. Everything is accessed from using a district-provided Google email account – students need only to click the “Log in with Google” button using the student’s SFUSD Google ID and password (or K-2 students can use scannable badges to log in). SFUSD Google accounts and badges are accessible through SFUSD’s Family Portal, ParentVue, and Student Portal, StudentVue. 

SFUSD Learning Continuity and Attendance Plan for Fiscal Year
2020 – 2021
, page 31

Reading the description it sounds like SFUSD is doing everything in its power to ensure students have support for digital learning. But, read the excerpt closely and you will see something missing among all the strategies mentioned to help children magically navigate digital learning platforms via “virtual backpacks”, Google IDs accounts, and scannable badges…

What could possibly be missing? PARENTS.

What the district actually does…

As a parent organizer who talks with families regularly, I can tell you SFUSD is clearly not meeting its parent involvement goals.

When SFUSD district leaders like Superintendent Matthews routinely say families can access their children’s assignments in ParentVUE/Synergy (SFUSD student information-sharing platform) it is misleading. Moreover, it can make families feel like failures because they are not able to find information that was never there in the first place.

Just check out the following post by SFUSD’s Twitter account, in which it states families can “view assignments” for their children.

District tweets tell parents they can access assignments in ParentVUE, but this is far from the case.

Technically, some families can see some assignments for some of their childrens’ classes in ParentVUE. Unfortunately, in my experience with my own teens, it has been the exception rather than the rule.

As Commissioner Gabriela Lopez noted during the meeting, this issue is compounded when data shows only 48% of families have ever logged into ParentVUE.

It appears I am not alone. Over the past several weeks I have been speaking with parent leaders across the district who are expressing the same frustration. Just this week, in fact, I was contacted by an SFUSD sophomore parent trying desperately to get help in finding their student’s assignments. In their email, they shared a screenshot of their child’s grades in ParentVUE with the following message…

“I have no idea what my child’s grade is in Chemistry or Spanish. I’m unable to log into their google classroom. My kid, at this point could care less about school. I’ve not been contacted by their IEP counselor.

“I should be getting a weekly report from each teacher on what my child’s assignments are, so I can check them off and make sure they are turning them in. I’ve been asking for this for years. For both my children.

“My only recourse for my child is restriction and getting them a simple chrome book. No video games, no phone unless they raise their grades. So now, I’m in a position of punishing them rather than helping them.”

—SFUSD parent

This is so upsetting. As a former high school English teacher and parent of twin teens, I am familiar with the developmental dynamic described. Teens naturally want to exert their independence and often this shows up in defiance to do academic work when parents try to help.

Cutting out families causes harm to kids

Compounding this is a culture of adultifying students, and especially high-schoolers. My child called this out when she told me many teachers justify their unwillingness to accommodate students’ learning or mental-health needs when they say things like “I’m getting you ready for college” or when they implement no-excuses and “tough-love” grading or late-work policies.

Is this really the way we want to encourage adolescents to apply themselves in school? … and during a pandemic no less!

What makes this even more frustrating is the fact that high school and middle school students will be receiving grades this fall, as opposed to the pass/fail grades they received in the spring. 

When I shared this concern with SFUSD legal staff during a recent Board Meeting, I was told families can always ask educators to reassess work after the fact. But do we really need to let students fail before their parents get involved? Especially when students have diagnosed disabilities which make it harder for them to manage work?

So, what do we do about this?

As a current Commissioner and forever parent leader, I’ve been demanding operational changes to remove barriers to family involvement. Nonetheless, for over a year now, I have seen little action on a district-wide scale.

It’s time to take action. Families must exercise their rights to have regular access to their children’s assignments. Families should all be able to easily find the nurse, counselor, or social worker at their child’s school. Info on websites should be accurate & up to date.

As I mentioned in a previous post, families have a right to be involved in their children’s education. They have a right to review any and all curricula, assessments, textbooks assigned to their children.

If you are an SF Unified parent and don’t have easy access to assignments I am urging you to file a Uniform Complaint to hold our district accountable.

This is especially important for families of high school students who will receive permanent letter grades this fall which count toward graduation, college application, and other post-secondary opportunities long after we are done with this pandemic.

As I discussed in my previous post, holding our public education system accountable isn’t just important for YOUR children, it’s important for all our children and their future children. If we want to live in a world free of #ableism #racism, and other forms of discrimination we are called on to ACT. We must not remain silent.

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2 thoughts on “If letter grades count, shouldn’t parent rights?

  1. What is the school board doing about this? You are the chair, right?

    Here are some starters:
    (1) Call a special meeting with the supt. Invite parent.
    (2) Identify and resolve the policies that are preventing this information from being shared with parents. I’d start with teacher and administrator contracts that you may have seen / approved.

    1. I am chair of Curriculum Committee, and have asked this item to come up on an upcoming agenda. There is specific language on grading policy which we learned at a previous meeting. I’m following up by asking staff to draft family facing information on these policies to be shared with families and uploaded to the district website.

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