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Worry is frozen GPAs will make students less competitive for colleges, scholarships

PMG FILE PHOTO  - With schools closed and distance learning the new norm for the rest of this academic year, some students and parents are petitioning the decision to use pass/incomplete grading for all classes. Some Lake Oswego and West Linn parents are pushing back on the Oregon Department of Education's decision regarding pass/incomplete grades by signing a petition that's circling the state.

With schools closed for the remainder of the academic year, the ODE released guidance for freshman, sophomores and juniors stating that graduation requirements will not change but students will receive a pass or incomplete grade instead of a letter grade. The mandate, effective this spring, supersedes any guidance an individual district might put out.

The state said the guidance focuses on mental, social and emotional needs of high school students and prioritizes well-being while emphasizing equity, family and community engagement.

The petition, created by a group of parents, has over 4,500 signatures according to Jenni Tan, a parent in West Linn.

They want their students to have the choice of being graded. Parents say this is especially important for high school juniors who have their last opportunity to raise their GPA for college applications and merit scholarships this semester.

Other parents said the state's decision demotivates their students and makes them feel like all their work was in vain.

One Lake Oswego parent, Ann Marie Tosoni, said the guidelines from ODE were very unexpected.

Tosoni said she observed that private schools were more prepared for the changing education landscape. They also started distance learning earlier than public schools.

"Lake Oswego was not and the state of Oregon was not (prepared)," she said.

Her daughter, Sofia Tosoni, is a junior at Lake Oswego High School.

"I kinda saw junior year as the year I would overload myself on weighted grades," she said.

So she took the opportunity to take a course load of advanced classes, which included four AP classes.

"I know that a lot of my friends had this mindset too," she added.

Apart from school, she's also on the softball team and on the youth council for Youth Charity League.

"I was so busy but in my head it was all paying off," she said.

She said she did well first semester, and before grades froze she was on track to be doing even better than that during this current semester.

She shared that her hope has always been to go to college out of state, but a merit scholarship would be the only way to make that affordable. She worries that she won't be competitive enough for a scholarship with pass grades.

"It just feels like it's putting me out of the running for a lot of things," she said.

"It's not only just about her," her mom added. "What about the students who might have had a real bad freshman year?" she said.

Another student, Victoria Garcia, is a sophomore at West Linn High School. She plays soccer and tennis and said she's really involved in school.

Garcia said she agrees with the petition but recognizes that not all student shave what they need to thrive academically right now.

Garcia said for students like herself, being able to receive a letter grade gives them a sense of accomplishment and motivation.

"I personally think I do have the resources I need to get a letter grade," Garcia said.

But she recognizes that's not the case for all students and that grading would be hard for teachers during distance learning.

She said she's unsure if the pass/incomplete decision will affect her in the future.

"I feel like all the work I've done is frozen in time," she said.

"I think that allowing students to have a choice is great for students who weren't passing their classes before," she added.

ODE maintains that the decision was made with equity in mind.

"The Department recognizes the incredible disruption that Oregon's students and families are experiencing right now. Oregon's students, families and educators are demonstrating resilience and strength during a very challenging time. We are taking an equitable approach that will allow students to continue to learn and prepare for their next courses, while safeguarding student opportunity," Marc Seigel, Communications Director at the ODE, said in a statement to Pamplin Media Group.

Lake Oswego School District's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee drafted a letter of support for the ODE's pass/incomplete decision on April 23.

The letter states that allowing grades would be more a measure of a student's access to learning materials and family support, rather than their actual learning — especially for historically marginalized communities.

The letter also addressed parents' concern that the pass/incomplete grade would affect college admissions.

"Prestigious universities from around the country have adapted to this new reality," the letter said. "Institutions ranging from schools in Oregon to Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Yale have all acknowledged the current situation, which will not impact college admissions."

Another letter, written by community groups such as the Oregon Education Association and Causa on April 22, details their support of the policy.

"The use of a pass/incomplete system allows students to continue to move forward with their education while ensuring that students who are unable to thrive under the distance learning model due to their economic or technological barriers are not permanently penalized for circumstances beyond their control," the letter said.

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