EDIT 12/29: In the original version published December 18th, we said the grade data we received included middle school grades. This was not correct. This data is High School 9-12 only. It’s the same dataset that Superintendent Marten used for her presentation, which makes her positive spin even more startling.
In light of the reports about distance learning leading to more failing grades, we requested grade data via a Public Records Request from SDUSD November 6th. We were told that the District would provide the data at the end of January. We know how these record requests go so we set the reminder in the calendar and prepared to wait.
But then we saw that Director of Special Ed Sarah Ott’s December 15th Board Presentation would review grade comparisons from this year and last year. And we also heard that, although not detailed on the agenda, Superintendent Marten would be discussing the grade data. This bothered us because it was the epitome of what brought us together in the first place: the lack of transparency at SDUSD.
When we received the report from SDUSD we immediately noticed that F’s are more than double the percentage of grades than they were the last two years (almost 16% compared to 7% in years past). This is inline with what other Districts are seeing. But leave it to the spin doctors at SDUSD to tell another story:
“Bucking the Trend?”
This is definitely the opposite of what we have been hearing from SDUSD parents concerned about their children’s plummeting grades and engagement. Superintendent Marten began the presentation stating that the grade data shows her “there is hope.” She wants to focus on the positive and that’s understandable. The problem is that when SDUSD is so busy tooting its own horn it doesn’t leave room to address the genuine academic, social and emotional challenges facing district families this year. What SDUSD lacks in communication, accountability and transparency, it makes up for in spin.
SPIN TACTIC #1: SLICE THE DATA TO ACHIEVE THE DESIRED NARRATIVE
The data we requested was based on actual grades for High School students 9-12, whereas Superintendent Marten presented the information on a per report card basis. For example, you could look at this and say that A’s are up 2% as a percentage of all grades given and completely ignore the fact that F’s are up 215% using the same measurement. And in essence that is what SDUSD tries to do.
SPIN TACTIC #2: SNEAK IN QUALIFIERS TO MAKE THE DATA WORK
As we prepared to make a side by side comparison on the data we realized SDUSD snuck in a very narrow qualifier.
Marten’s story was about students receiving “ALL” A’s, B’s and C’s on their report cards. In other words, students receiving a mix of B’s and an F were EXCLUDED from the results. Did you catch that subtlety? It’s ok. We weren’t supposed to.
Superintendent Marten interprets this increase in A,B,C report cards as an indicator that more students are succeeding with Distance Learning. What she fails to explain is that students are taking half the classes over Distance Learning than they did during the 19-20 school year. In other words, there could be more report cards with A,B and C’s because students have lower course loads, or alternatively because a report card has 3 grades instead of 6 so there are fewer chances for an F.
SPIN TACTIC #3: OBSCURE THE TRUTH TO PREEMPT CRITICISM
Superintendent Marten went out of the way to mention “these results are not the result of a change in our grading policy.” However, our data shows 1230 “In Progress” grades this year, compared to 12 for the same time period last year, and only 3 for the 2018-2019 Q1/S1.
While it’s possible these are shifts from the “NG – No Grade” category, which decreased by about the same percentage that IP grades increased, we question why SDUSD doesn’t consider this a result of the new grading policy.
SPIN TACTIC #4: GLOSS OVER THE NEGATIVE WITH SOMETHING POSITIVE
- In elementary schools “there’s an overall decline of about 2% in ELA and Mathematics.”
- At the High School level the F grade is “accounting for 19% more of the total than they did this time last year.”
- Then she promptly moved on to discussing the success of the IT Helpdesk, with more data and numbers about case resolutions than she provided for failing grades.
SPIN TACTIC #5: USE MATHEMATICAL MAGIC
In an attempt to address the inequity chasm caused by SDUSD’s closure, Superintendent Marten makes a case that low income students are actually doing better on distance learning because the percentage of students with failing D & F grades in this cohort is down by 5%, whereas it’s down only 1% for students who don’t get free and reduced lunches. Anyone who works with percentages can guess this “success” is more a factor of the starting number than actual improvement, but that’s why it’s called math magic, after all. Unfortunately we only requested the numbers of students with F-grades, versus D & F.
There are 1044 more students with F grades this grading period.
More, troubling is that the number of students receiving F’s is over a quarter of the student body (25.64%) whereas it has held steady around 21% the prior two years.
In the end, it’s impossible to make an apples to apple comparison because SDUSD sliced up their data to promote their narrative. So instead we are making a comparison based on what the SDUSD story was meant to imply/evoke. Then we compared that to the actual data. To every parent whose child is struggling right now, please don’t believe the SDUSD Spin Machine. This graph is your truth and you know it.
You can see the actual Grade Data we received here: SDUSD Records Request Grade Data
You can listen to Superintendent Marten’s Board Presentation here: “There is Hope”
Alternatively, we’ve reworked the presentation adding side-by-side summary of the skewed information.
We will continue to shine the light on the way SDUSD obscures the facts to promote a rosy picture that is not in line with the reality for students and families. SDUSD must make a genuine effort to partner with parents in order to address the needs facing its students, our children!