High school students who want an extra year in school after struggling with distance learning and the absence of friends and activities during the pandemic should be allowed to do so, Fresno Unified Trustee Terry Slatic said Tuesday.
Slatic is proposing that students in grades 9 through 12 be allowed to return for what he’s calling a “redshirt” year, and not just because they are struggling with classwork.
In college athletics, students may withdraw from competition while still practicing for a year as a “redshirt” and retain their four years of athletic eligibility.
“Academics are, of course, our No. 1 concern and emphasis in this plan, but high school is so, so much more,” Slatic said in a prepared statement. “Students and families opting for this plan will, in addition to the academic emphasis, be able to enjoy all of the opportunities that comprise the high school experience.”
Slatic says that the 15% of high schoolers who are academically gifted have successfully adapted to distance learning and likely won’t be prospects for a fifth year of high school.
But of the remaining 85%, Slatic estimates that half are behind by two grade levels, and the remaining half are three grade levels or more behind.
Distance learning has been a struggle for many students whose homes are not conducive to classwork or studying, due to noisy environments or weak internet connections.
AB 104’s ‘Fifth’ Year for Juniors, Seniors
Meanwhile, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, has proposed legislation with provisions for students to repeat a grade because of learning losses during the pandemic.
Assembly Bill 104, which is pending before the Assembly Education Committee, would allow juniors and seniors to have a fifth year in high school to earn the credits needed to obtain a high school diploma.
But the losses for high schoolers go beyond academics, Slatic said. Extracurricular activities such as sports, forensics, and band, and events such as prom make up the “high school experience” that students have lost out on during the pandemic, he said.
Slatic said he presented the “redshirt” proposal to Superintendent Bob Nelson several months ago.
Open to Options
Tuesday afternoon, Nelson said the district should consider all kinds of mitigation for the learning losses that have occurred, including Slatic’s proposal.
Returning to high school for another year of eligibility “is not a high priority,” the superintendent said.
But some parents may believe that their children will benefit from additional time in high school for social-emotional growth as well as academics, and the district may be able to provide additional career tech education and “dual enrollment” courses, which are college level classes taught to high school students, Nelson said.
The important thing for educators is to pay attention to what families and students say they need, and not operate under the assumption that educators will know better than parents, he said: “If a kid needs another year, we need to listen.”
Fresno Unified instituted its first-ever winter session over the holiday break for high schoolers who needed more time to complete coursework and get a passing grade, which shows that the district is prepared to consider all initiatives that will help students get back on track, Nelson said.
Less Stigma Than Before
Fresno Unified’s practice has been to promote students and not hold them back to repeat a grade, which has led to some students getting a high school diploma with a 1.0 grade-point average, Slatic said.
There has been a stigma attached in the past to students who weren’t advanced to the next grade level, and normally “we don’t encourage retention,” Nelson acknowledged. But given the unprecedented events since the arrival of the pandemic, “that’s different now … we can explore that (option) with families,” he said.
Slatic, who represents the Bullard High area, said he has spent the past four months with students and their families in homes across the district, seeing firsthand how students struggle with distance learning and hearing from them and their parents that they would welcome the opportunity for an extra year of high school.
Parents who have heard about the proposal are emailing him to say, “Thank you for giving my kids hope,” he said.
Higher Costs Either Way
There will be some cost to students being in school for an additional year, and high school schedules might need adjusting to accommodate extra students, he acknowledged. Schools might need to shift from a six-period day to eight periods, for example, Slatic said.
But taxpayers and residents should weigh the cost of an extra year of high school against the cost of graduating students who are woefully unprepared to go on to college or career, he said.
“Sending more students at the fourth-grade level out with a high school diploma, let me know how that’s good for the Valley,” he said.
Slatic said he believes other Fresno-area school districts also will adopt the “redshirt” proposal or risk losing some of their students to Fresno Unified.
“I’ve been vetting this around the Valley,” he told GV Wire℠. “This has a 99% acceptance rate.”
Parent: Educators Should Look at Other Options
But parent Laura Maxey said she wonders how many seniors, who likely already have been bitten by “senioritis,” will want to stay in high school for a fifth year. Likewise, parents will be reluctant to hold their children back a year, she said.
Maxey said educators need to be considering other options, such as in-person summer school since infection rates tend to be lower during that time of year.
But Maxey said she agrees that learning losses have been significant. She decided earlier this school year to pull her children out of their Fresno and Clovis schools and enroll them in private schools, where they can attend in-person.
And she said she disagrees with Fresno Unified’s decision to delay state testing. “I think we need to do it this year more than any year,” Maxey said. “Otherwise, there’s no accountability.”
And the lack of testing will make it harder to discover where the learning gaps are the widest, she said.