New California law gives students a do-over for failing grades in pandemic year

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed a law to help alleviate the pandemic’s effect on grades and graduation credits by giving California students an opportunity to redo a grade level.

Assembly Bill 104, now law, creates a range of grading options to accommodate K-12 students who struggled during the 2020-21 academic year, when distance learning disrupted classroom routines.

These include allowing students to retake their grade level and change letter grades to “pass” or “no pass.” High school juniors and seniors may also be exempt from certain graduation requirements or have the option to complete their coursework in a fifth year of high school.

The intent of the bill is to avoid penalizing students for learning loss during the pandemic and help them catch up, according to the bill’s author, Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego.

“Now that our kids are returning to the classroom, we need to focus on supporting students who have fallen behind and lost a year of educational progress,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “AB 104 provides students and parents with immediate steps they can take to help their children get back on track.”

The Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) found that COVID-19 school disruptions significantly impacted student learning. The effect is more severely felt by low-income students and English language learners.

The bill passed unanimously in both houses before landing on Newsom’s desk on June 21.

The specific options available to students and their parents thanks to this new law are as follows:

Retaking a grade level

School officials must offer a temporary process for students who are not passing at least half of their courses from the 2020-21 academic year to retake their grade level.

If parents request their student be retained, a school district must offer consultations to parents within 30 days of a written request.

The district would consult with the parent, student and student’s teacher to determine whether retaking the grade is the best option.

Changing grading options

Students can change their letter grades from 2020-21 to “pass” or “no pass,” which does not affect their GPAs. If the student is under 18 years old, their parent or guardian must apply for the grading change.

Specified higher education institutions, including the California State University, must accept “pass” grades for credit when considering students for admissions. The University of California and private higher education institutions are also encouraged to do the same, but the Legislature has limited power to regulate the UC system.

“It allows them to stay in the range of a grade point average, which is increasingly important because they don’t have an SAT,” Gonzalez said at the Assembly Education Committee hearing.

The Los Angeles Unified School District reported 8.7% more students in grades 9 — 12 and 12.4% more students in middle school received Ds and Fs last year compared to the year before.

More time for high school

Schools must allow students who were in their third or fourth year of high school during the pandemic to complete their graduation requirements if they are not on track to do so on time.