Minimizing Uncertainty for Families of High School Students

In this time of disruption, fear, and distance learning, families are dealing with immense uncertainty about their children’s education. The district has compiled information and daily updates here, but for families, many critical questions are still unanswered.

To try to help, GO will be sending out weekly emails with the aim of helping families wade through the latest information, translating what it all means, and providing resources. While we don’t have all the answers, we will share what we know to be true in the hopes that it helps you and your family. And we’ll occasionally share our own perspective on solutions that can support students’ academic needs as well as the general wellbeing of WCCUSD families and educators during this difficult time.

This week, we want to talk to families of high school students…

While students of all ages are dealing with anxiety from school closures and cancelled activities, high school students are particularly impacted by the coronavirus crisis and resulting school closures. Since kindergarten they’ve worked hard, challenging themselves to learn despite any obstacles in their way, and made plans for life after graduation. Now, with school closed for the year and varied experiences with ‘distance learning’, many students are wondering if the same doors are still open to them as before.

In the short-term, families are also trying to figure out how the system is changing: what rules have changed, and what rules haven’t? Will my student be penalized for the closures and lost learning time? With dreams of higher education or careers just around the corner, the stakes feel overwhelmingly high for high school students.

Here’s what is currently known, and what is unknown, about the most pressing questions we’re hearing from families:

  • College admissions: Most colleges and universities are adapting admissions and enrollment requirements to accommodate high school students affected by school closure and cancelled exams.
    • Juniors: Colleges are aware of the cancelled SAT/ACTs exams, and some have already announced plans to waive these requirements next year. While in-person tours have been cancelled, It’s worth checking with schools you’re interested in to see if they offer virtual campus tours or info sessions.
    • Seniors: Students should have been notified by April 1 about their admissions status for any universities to which they applied. While some colleges have extended “decision day” from May 1 to June 1 or later, it’s best to check with each school – this also holds true for the deadline to pay your deposit.
    • Resources:
  • SBAC Exams: There will be no SBAC exams this year for 11th graders (or students in grades 3-8) statewide, according to a federal waiver received by the state of California.
  • Course credits and grading policy: On April 23, the district announced its spring 2020 grading policy during distance learning. For middle and high school students, grading will be done on a Pass/Credit basis, with work equivalent to a C- or higher  receiving a “Pass” (and A-G credit), while work less than a C- will receive “Credit”. However, the district has indicated that receiving “Credit” for a course does not mean it is A-G eligible, and students who want to transition to a four-year college directly after high school will have to retake any A-G course for which a student received “Credit”. No graduating senior will receive less than a “Pass”.

A Perspective on Grading: With families across the district confronting challenges accessing reliable internet, we support the decision not to penalize students who may be disproportionately impacted by school closures and the ‘digital divide’. Give students  a chance to do better in this environment, but don’t penalize students who struggle. One bad test early in the semester shouldn’t determine your grade.

The state’s advice to educators during a recent webinar was to grade assignments for instructional purposes only. In fact, assessments should always exist primarily to improve instruction. Can teachers find ways to offer extra credit assignments to help motivate students and give them the opportunity to raise their grades?

  • Graduation: Students who were on track to graduate in June will still be able to graduate. The state’s guidance has been that districts should “enable students to complete state graduation requirements with needed flexibilities associated with the nature of assignments.” And the school board has the authority to waive or revise WCCUSD’s policy on graduation requirements, such as electives and service learning requirements.
  • Prom and other senior activities: We know one of the emotionally challenging  parts of this time is potentially missing out on important milestones and celebrations like prom and graduation celebrations. We encourage you to inquire with your individual high school and keep in mind that schools know how important these events are to students and may consider alternatives, like moving end-of-high school activities to summer, if need be. Rest assured, all is not lost.

A final thought: mental health is so important during these challenging times. Families and students of all ages are under immense stress. Young people in particular are less likely to identify their anxiety and take extra steps to care for themselves. This resource provides some helpful strategies to support your high schooler during this time: How to Help Teens Shelter in Place.

And if your graduating senior needs a reminder that they’re not alone, this Bay Area news segment, KQED Forum: California 12th Graders Reflect on Their Interrupted Senior Year, includes interviews with Bay Area high school seniors on how they are experiencing the early end to their senior year.

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