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State OKs major changes to grading, graduation requirements due to coronavirus

Posted March 27, 2020 1:32 p.m. EDT
Updated March 27, 2020 7:45 p.m. EDT

— The State Board of Education voted unanimously Friday to make radical changes to grading, testing and graduation requirements in response to school closures and social upheaval caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The changes, board members said, are meant to ensure students are not penalized for not having access to resources for online learning.

Chairman Eric Davis said the hope is still to reopen schools in May. If so, officials can come up with a way to assign final grades. If schools don’t reopen, students will be graded on their work through March 13.

Work done remotely by students in kindergarten through fifth grade, board members explained, should focus more on progress and support than evaluation or assessment. In sixth through eleventh grades, evaluations may vary, but students will, at a minimum, be graded on in-school completed through March 13th.

The requirement for the end-of-course test to be 20 percent of a student’s final grade was waived.

"The board, the department fully understands the many situations that our students, families and educators find themselves in with respect to the ability to carry out remote learning," said board member J. B. Buxton. "The intent is to continue to support students to the extent possible and not to penalize anyone for for a situation that is beyond their control, be it connectivity or otherwise."

Graduation requirements would be reduced as well. Students working in an occupational course of study will be required to log 157 paid work hours, reduced from the current requirement of 225 hours. Graduating seniors who have not yet completed CPR will no longer be required to do so.

For seniors, the emphasis is on meeting minimum graduation requirements. To that end, seniors who were meeting expectations in required classes would be awarded a new grade, Pass COVID-19, abbreviated as PC-19. Students who were not passing as of March 13 will receive additional remote support through the North Carolina Virtual Public School to meet those expectations. If they don’t, they will receive a Withdraw COVID-19, abbreviated as WC-19.

"Our intent here is that seniors are focused on passing courses,” explained DPI Advanced Learning Director Sneha Shah Coltrane. "The additional burden and stress of GPA and grading in a traditional sense is lifted for them.“

The board also approved an additional $50 million in support for school districts, targeted for school nutrition, remote learning, child care services and sanitation required by the coronavirus outbreak.

“We know this won’t be the last” funding needed, said Vice Chairman Alan Duncan.

An additional change approved Friday would create a new "state of emergency leave policy" for the month of April. It would make it easier for school employees to work from home when possible and allow several weeks of leave for self-quarantine or care for a sick family member.

Board members also voted not to spend $1.2 million to extend iStation’s contract beyond March 31. Members argued for more than an hour over the issue.

IStation provides reading tests for students in kindergarten through the third grade, and the company has been at the center of a dispute for months. Another vendor challenged iStation's contract, forcing the state to put it on hold, but Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson awarded the company an "emergency" contract in January without state board approval.

Johnson insisted Friday that the contract be extended and noted that iStation had offered to give students access to its online curriculum in K-3 reading, math, and Spanish at no additional charge.

However, board members pointed out that, with no real ability to even assess student progress remotely at the current time, paying $1.2 million for a tool to do that made little sense.

Johnson and board members disagreed on the likelihood of lawmakers’ waiving their requirement for reading progress assessment under the state's Read to Achieve law. Johnson insisted lawmakers would continue to require it, but other board members predicted it would be waived due to the “extraordinary times” students and schools are in.

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