Education

State board OKs new student grading policy under pandemic

Posted April 23, 2020 12:05 p.m. EDT
Updated April 23, 2020 3:23 p.m. EDT

— The State Board of Education has approved a grading system for the spring semester interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic – an issue that’s been at the front of many parents’ minds as their students grapple with the challenges of remote learning.

Sneha Shah Coltrane, advanced learning director for the state Department of Public Instruction, said the spring 2020 policy is "as flexible as possible," taking into account that students in different areas have differing access to technology, internet connections, educational support and space and time to focus on their studies while isolated with their families.

"We can be equitable as well as responsive to excellence at the same time," Shah Coltrane told the board, "and can offer grace and generosity through flexibility."

Kindergarten through grade 5: Students will not receive any grade for the semester. Instead, teachers will provide feedback on their progress for the academic year, with local boards deciding on the format for that feedback. Teachers will also be asked to document the student’s academic and social/emotional strengths and needs to help in the transition to the next school year.

Grades 6 through 8: Students will receive either a PC19, “Pass Covid-19,” or a WC19, “Withdrawn Covid-19.”

"Students will be held harmless for any content after March 13," Shah Coltrane said.

If the student was meeting expectations on that date, when schools were closed, or has made enough progress to meet them through remote learning, they will receive a passing grade. If not, they’ll receive a WC19, which, Shah Coltrane stressed, does not mean a student failed or should repeat the course.

"It just means there’s a lack of evidence of mastery of the content area," she explained.

Grades 9 through 11: Students and families will have a choice for spring 2020 semester grades. They can choose to use their highest numeric grade, either as of March 13 or as they may have improved it through remote coursework, or they can choose PC19 or WC19.

If students choose a numeric grade, it will be calculated into their GPA. If they choose PC19 or WC19, it will not count toward their GPA. PC19 means the student will get credit for the course, while WC19 means they will not.

For yearlong courses, students can use a combination of their numeric grade for the fall semester and a PC19/WC19 for the spring.

Teachers can also issue a temporary grade of incomplete in some cases if there’s a plan with a deadline to complete the coursework.

If teachers can’t contact students to discuss their choices, the board recommends that the teacher choose PC19 for them. Students who can't be contacted this spring will be offered the opportunity to change it during a period next fall when they get back to school.

"By this plan, we’re giving our students motivation to continue learning and strive to improve their GPA," said advisory student board member Nate Kolk-Tomberlin. "But we’re also accommodating all the students who struggle with online learning and don't have the adequate access to online learning."

Promotion and retention decisions remain up to the principal., Shah Coltrane said, but the board strongly recommends that "retention only occur if the student was being considered for retention prior to March 13" and after consultation with the students' teachers and family.

High school seniors: On March 27, the board approved a PC19/WC19 policy for spring 2020 grades for seniors. But several board members asked whether DPI might reconsider letting seniors choose their numeric grade instead. Shah Coltrane said changing the policy again at this point would be "detrimental." Vice-chair J.B. Buxton recommended leaving the current policy in place for now, but said they could “make any revisions we might need to at a future meeting.”

Athletics changes

The board also approved a one-year change to athletic policies on academic eligibility and physical exam requirements.

For academic eligibility, if high school or middle school students are promoted at the end of the 2019-20 school year, they’ll be eligible for athletics for 2020-21.

For the "pre-participation physical exam" required for athletics, schools or districts often offer mass physicals, but those likely won’t happen this year due to requirements for social distancing. So, if a high school or middle school student had a valid physical for 2019-20, it will carry over for an additional year. If they didn’t have a current valid physical for this school year, they’ll have to get one before they can play.

Funding requests

The board voted to ask lawmakers for $381 million, including $70 million as matching state funds to get federal CARES Act funds for a summer "jump start" course to help disadvantaged students catch up, focusing on K-3 literacy, but also allowing local districts to expand that to additional students as needed.

The requested amount also includes funding for remote teaching and learning needs, such as Chromebooks for the estimated 300,000 students who have no digital devices and mobile "hot spots" for buses. It would also fund staff training for students' "re-entry" into school, additional food services and a temporary $5-per-hour pay increase for school workers who are preparing and distributing meals to students.

Board Chairman Eric Davis stressed that the requested funding will be a "joint request," representing both DPI under Superintendent Mark Johnson and the State Board of Education.

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