Protecting Kids from the Academic Impact of a Lost Year

By Mary Perry, California State PTA Board of Managers

For many California children, the 2020-21 school year was a time of lost potential as one fourth of families did not have a high-speed internet connection and thousands of students did not even enroll in school. In June, Assembly Bill 104 (Gonzalez) was adopted as an emergency measure to support parents and help them protect their students from some of those impacts.

According to a press release from the bill’s author, San Diego Democrat Lorena Gonzalez, AB 104 goes into effect immediately and allows parents of students who fell behind during the last year to pursue a number of learning recovery options before the next school year begins.” California State PTA supported the bill. 

Three key things parents can do

Thanks to this newly passed emergency measure, families have several options for helping students make up for lost instructional time. Each has a specific timeline and requires that parents and students take the initiative to communicate with school officials. When state guidance refers to Local Education Agencies, or LEAs, it includes school districts, charter schools and county offices of education.  

  • Change a “D” or “F” grade to Pass/No Pass

This option requires fast action! Students enrolled in high school in the 2020–21 academic year may apply to have any letter grade replaced with a pass or no pass grade. The CA Department of Education has prepared a form that LEAs will use for this request and should have already posted on their website. In addition, they should post this list of the UC campuses and private universities that have agreed to accept transcripts with these changes. AB 104 required that all California State University (CSU) campuses accept the pass/no pass grades as well. After the LEA has posted this information and provided written notice, students have 15 days to file their grade change request.

  • Retain a student in their previous grade

This option is for students who were in any of grades kindergarten to 11th grade in 2020-21 and successfully finished less than half of their course work. Parents must file a written request with their Local Education Agency to have their student retained in the same grade for another year. The LEA, in turn, must schedule a consultation with the parent within 30 days of that request. The LEA makes the final decision on the request and must notify the parent within 10 days of the consultation. Most LEAs already have a form they use for parents related to grade retention. You should contact your school principal or district office for more information.

  • Exempt a student from local graduation requirements 

Students enrolled in their third or fourth year of high school in 2020-21 and who are not on track to graduate in four years must be offered some options. One option is to exempt them from all coursework and other requirements adopted by the LEA that are in addition to the statewide coursework requirements, which are fewer than most districts require. If necessary, LEAs must also provide these students the opportunity to complete the statewide coursework required for graduation, which may include offering a fifth year of instruction or credit recovery. Here is a quick comparison of the statewide requirements and those that make a student eligible for UC or CSU admission.

This EdSource article, part of their July 26 news update, provides additional background about AB 104. For deeper background related to education, PTA advocacy, health, community concerns, and family engagement, visit the Focus Areas section of the CA State PTA website

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Homework: How Much is Enough?

Is it fine for your kindergartener to spend an hour after school on homework? Does your high school student never crack a book or do an assignment at home?

As parents, we would likely find both of these scenarios concerning. But do you feel confident about how much homework your student should be doing? Luckily, there is some research-based guidance available and also some suggestions from California State PTA regarding how to have that conversation with teachers, principals and school district officials about the policies in your local schools.

First, here is a bit of research information, from a recent article in EdWeek.

“Studies by researchers including Harris Cooper, a Duke University psychology and neuroscience professor who wrote The Battle Over Homework, have consistently shown that homework has minimal academic benefits for children in the early-elementary years.

“Instead, both the National Education Association and the National PTA endorse Cooper’s so-called 10-minute rule, which calls for roughly 10 minutes of homework a night per grade level beginning in 1st grade. So children in 2nd grade would have 20 minutes, those in 3rd grade would have 30 minutes, and so on. In high school, students may exceed that recommendation depending on the difficulty of the courses they choose.”

In 2014, California State PTA passed a resolution titled “Homework: Quality Over Quantity.” All of our resolutions (which are posted on the California State PTA website at www.capta.org/resolutions) include a research summary and a commitment to take action. This homework resolution acknowledges that homework can be “a valuable aid” to student learning, calls for assignments to be high quality, and spotlights that too much homework, too soon, can actually hurt students’ academic progress. It also raises concerns that it can create inequities and contribute to the achievement gap if it does not account for the diversity of family situations.

So what should you do if you are uneasy about the amount and/or quality of your child’s homework? You can start by finding out what your local school and district’s homework policies are (your school principal should be able to help). Do they address quality, quantity and equity concerns based on current research? Are they being followed at your school? Is this a worry other parents share?

If you see cause for concern, you can ask to have the issue on the agenda at your next PTA meeting. Your principal should be informed and invites, and perhaps invite teachers to specifically discuss their perspectives.