High school students unhappy with pandemic-affected grades have a few days to change them

Students study at a table
Students in a peer tutoring program at Scripps Ranch High School in 2016 work on lessons at a table.
(Nancee E. Lewis / San Diego Union-Tribune)

High school families have a chance to change last school year’s letter grades to “pass” or “no pass” — an opportunity meant to show grace to students who struggled during the pandemic and campus closures.

The deadline to take advantage of that chance is approaching.

A new state law, Assembly Bill 104, allows high school students to request grade changes during a 15-day window.

The law requires that school districts and charter schools post a grade change request form on their websites and were to have notified families of the option by Aug. 2. Students have 15 days after that to submit a form, which their school must accept.

The state legislation also provided other one-time potential benefits for students and their families. Parents also will have the right to request that their child repeat the same academic year. For example, if a child struggled in third grade, parents can request that the child repeat the grade. The district, however, does not automatically have to honor the request.

In addition, more students will be eligible to earn a diploma because graduation requirements are being limited to only what the state requires. A school district’s additional requirements, which normally are mandatory, will not prevent a student from graduating.


“At its core this legislation is about helping students transition from high school to college and ensuring that they are not derailed because of the extreme challenges so many have faced during this pandemic,” said Shannon Haber, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Unified School District, in a statement. “AB 104 is a step in the right direction to help students after a very challenging school year. We applaud the Legislature and governor for taking action to ensure that children would not feel stigmatized for struggling academically during these unprecedented times.”

The deadline for exercising the pass/fail option varies by district. In Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school system, the school must be notified by Aug. 17. The school is required to change the student’s grade within 15 days of the request and is supposed to notify the student and student’s parents that the grade was changed. Details are posted on the district’s website.

The deadline for students in San Diego Unified — the state’s second-largest district — and Sweetwater Union High school districts to submit a grade change request form is Aug. 16, according to the office of state Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who authored AB 104.

Students don’t have to give a reason for wanting to change their grade, according to the state education department’s website.

“Pass” grades do not affect a student’s GPA and ensure the coursework still counts toward a student’s graduation requirements, Gonzalez’s office said.

School districts reported surges in Ds and Fs during last school year, as students struggled with distance learning and teachers grappled to find all their students and get them to participate.

“For my three kids who spent the last school year in ‘Zoom school,’ I saw how difficult it was for them to adjust to distance learning,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “Struggling in school during this difficult time shouldn’t jeopardize a student’s GPA, or risk their chances of being admitted to college and qualify for financial aid.”


Both the California State University and University of California systems are accepting pass/no-pass grades for classes taken from spring 2020 to summer 2021.

Some private and out-of-state colleges and universities may require letter grades. At least 13 private institutions have said they will accept pass/no-pass grades in lieu of letter grades through the 2023-24 school year, according to the state education department.

Early on, a major provision of the legislation was the retention option, but there was strong pushback from educators who pointed to research suggesting that retention frequently resulted in long-term academic harm. That’s why the bill’s final form ultimately leaves it up to educators to decide whether a child would be retained.

But parents at least will be able to demand a conference over pursuing this option — if they know about it.

L.A. Unified officials said the bill does not include an obligation to notify parents about the retention option, but it is posted on the district’s website — along with links to research about the ramifications of the practice. The district also notes that the opposite of retention, called “social promotion,” can result in harm by advancing an unprepared student to the next grade.

The best approach is promotion with intense academic intervention, according to the district. Once a student is in high school, promotion to the next grade is based only on course credits earned.

In Los Angeles, school officials are notifying individual students if they qualify to graduate based on the temporarily reduced requirements.

“There are 747 students from the class of 2021 who are now eligible to receive a high school diploma,” said Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, L.A. Unified’s chief academic officer.

On Thursday, the district conducted a webinar on the temporary rules that 2,200 parents attended. A recording will soon be posted.

In addition, “many local districts and principals are conducting meetings in an effort to communicate the information about AB 104 to all our families,” Yoshimoto-Towery said.

Blume writes for The Times; Taketa the San Diego Union-Tribune.