Today we present Part 2 of the 3 part series by our special confidential resource named “Inside Unified”.   Today the focus is on San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) Grades and Grading Policy.

Part 1 – SDUSD AP and CAASPP Performance was posted on Sunday, February 28, 2021.

Based on the information in this second post from “Inside Unified”, District Deeds will be making a public records request for a report including the 2019 school year. In addition we will be requesting this report by student group.  We will not be including 2020 because grading standards were changed due to Covid 19.  We will share that report with you when, and if, the San Diego Unified School District decides to comply and provide it.

Part 3 of this series will be posted on Thursday, March 4, 2021 with a commentary examining the credibility of the UC A-G trend data over Cindy Marten’s tenure as SDUSD Superintendent.

All of the data enclosed in this report is taken directly from State and/or SDUSD created documentation.

We have known that there are problems with grading in San Diego Unified for decades. Some district leaders shared “The Case Against The Zero” by Douglas B. Reeves one year with staff.  We learned the devastating effects of the 100 point grading system when assigning zeros as grades.

Did we facilitate a shift to move to a more equitable system for our kids?

No, some schools took this on, but it wasn’t done systemically.

Some district leaders asked us to examine Dr. Doug Fisher’s writings that asked us if we were grading the “practice or the play.”  From this we understood that “non-academic” grading factors were not equitable for kids (and check the date of that article to see how long ago we knew.)

Did we facilitate a shift to move to a grading system without non-academic factors?

No. Not until it became important politically.

One year the Voice of San Diego placed the school grades next to our SBAC outcomes to ask whether our grades had any correlation to state mastery metrics.

They didn’t.

Did we do anything with that information?

Some schools might have but there was no systemic response.

Trustee Richard Barrera was the constant on the board during these years, and when he had the chance to appoint a superintendent who would act on his behalf (and the behalf of hundreds of thousands of students) he selected Cindy Marten in 2013.

Seven years and six months later a grading policy is dropped 12 weeks before her nomination.

Give me a break.

Recently we have watched Superintendent Cindy Marten “leading the charge” on grading reform in San Diego Unified.

Like sending President Biden a sample budget recommendation for public school funding when she couldn’t properly create, staff or manage a budget without reorganizing the staff at board meetings each year, you have to look carefully at whether the publicity stunts and photo opportunities actually translate into action for students.

Grading is another example of data that reveals that when inequities are known and hard work is required to help kids, nothing is done until the moment is advantageous for the superintendent.

Most recently, an announcement was made by SDUSD that they would be changing the grading policy to reflect more equitable practices. Sounds great on the surface but the problem with the San Diego Unified School District “announcements” is that there is always a disconnect between what is said and what is done. It begs the question of whether these announcements are photo ops to pad the resume or if they are actually meaningful efforts to change the conditions, experiences and ultimately outcomes of all students.

Consider this:


Rather than taking the summer of 2020 to properly roll out the new grading policies—including training administrators on how to implement the new policies and training teachers on how to make the shifts—the announcement about the grading policy was made by Richard Barrera weeks before the school board election (his own) in October/November and less than 12 weeks before the superintendent was nominated to be the US Department of Education Deputy. Doesn’t it seem odd that such an important shift would be dropped on principals in the middle of staffing adjustments and continued COVID demands when it could have been done so much more purposefully if it was a matter of equity?


The superintendent and board of education have known for quite some time that grading was a problem in SDUSD.  In the attached document you will see grading trends in SDUSD by high school for four years. The grading similarities year to year are uncanny.

Do we really believe that completely different groups of students roll up to the next grade level each year and the outcomes are almost the same as the prior year?

Are we to believe that there are only a certain number of students capable enough each year to earn A’s and B’s?

What about the grading practices in math?

What about the trends within schools, across schools, within departments and across departments?

Can you imagine what we would see if this report was disaggregated by student group?

Clearly students are being graded on a bell curve or certain groups of students are experiencing school similarly each year. And there are disproportionate differences between grading practices in communities with higher levels of poverty (as you can see when comparing the Scripps Ranch and Hoover grades.)

Why would this data be known prior to 2018 but not acted on until Oct/Nov 2020 if this was a priority?

Wasn’t there a special board meeting on grading well before Oct/Nov 2020? This certainly raises important questions about the timing and implementation of “equity” issues in SDUSD.

Below are examples of the grading similarities and disproportionate differences described above using the 2015 – 2018 time frame.

First, let’s look at the 2017/18 Student Profile from Dataquest and 2015 – 2018 Grades for Scripps Ranch High School:

Now let’s look at let’s look at the 2017/18 Student Profile from CDOE Dataquest and 2015 – 2018 Grades for Hoover High School:

The difference is obvious.

To compare SDUSD High Schools, here is a link to ALL SDUSD High School Grading: SDUSD HIGH SCHOOL GRADES 2015 – 2018


The California Education Code has established grading guidelines for districts. These guidelines put the control over grading with the teachers.

Although the SDUSD Board of Education approved and announced a revised policy that did not include “non-academic” factors in grading, why wouldn’t a Superintendent, who was appointed to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and that was serious about making grading changes, work simultaneously with teachers on the ground and with the State of California to revise the education code so equity could not be negotiated district by district or teacher by teacher?

In the case of SDUSD, the teachers union “won” the right to academic freedom in grading since this announcement because it was already their right. A photo op by Superintendent Marten doesn’t change equity in the classroom. That takes hard work that goes beyond a photo op.

So what have been the implications for kids?  Grades have serious consequences.

  • Grades remain subjective and therefore may not be accurate assessments of progress.
  • GPA’s define one’s ability to access colleges or earn scholarships.
  • Sometimes grades send messages to kids that they aren’t smart or capable.
  • Grades have an important impact on the credibility of graduation and UC a-g with a C data.

For all these reasons and more, wouldn’t a Superintendent committed to equity have acted on this data sooner?

We will explore this further in my next data dive on Thursday, 3/4/21 when we will examine the credibility and impact of the UC a-g data to address some of the claims made in public messages of support for Superintendent Marten’s nomination.




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