During remote learning period, local school districts took different approaches to assigning grades
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Now that the K-12 academic year has ended, students in Douglas County will soon receive their final grades, if they haven’t already.
But this year, students faced a new challenge as their final quarter was disrupted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As learning methods changed, school districts also changed the way they assigned grades.
Area school districts took different approaches to grading — some decided that basically “normal” grading would be a way to help students remain engaged, and others, taking a more lenient approach, decided that traditional grading would penalize students for circumstances they were not prepared for.
When the Kansas State Department of Education in March rolled out guidelines for how schools needed to operate remote learning during the pandemic, state officials specifically asked the districts to “give grace” to students with their plans.
The Lawrence school district appears to have taken that as a guiding principle, as students in Lawrence could only improve, not harm, their grades during the remote learning period.
When asked why the school district took that route, spokeswoman Julie Boyle pointed to the district’s letter to parents that explained the plan. The letter notes the stress of the global health crisis, unreliable internet access for some students and additional responsibilities students may have faced during the pandemic.
“These practices will enable students to prioritize and focus on the knowledge, skills, and classes they want, need, and would like to improve,” the letter said.
A possible downfall of this tactic was leaving the door open for students to disengage for the remainder of the school year without the normal consequences of lower grades. However, the district did not appear to be overly concerned about that possibility.
“We recognize this is a unique grading practice. It takes into account the unprecedented challenges students and families are facing in light of the COVID-19 public health crisis,” the letter said. “We do not wish to penalize students for a situation that is clearly outside of their control.”
In Eudora and Baldwin City, the school districts took a different route to encourage students to continue their participation during the remote learning period. Unlike in Lawrence, students at those schools could still see their grades slip if they did not participate from home.
But the grades of the students, particularly high school students, could only drop a certain amount. Baldwin City Superintendent Paul Dorathy said the most a high school student could see a grade drop in the final quarter of the school year was a single letter grade.
For example, a high school student earning a “B” before remote learning could improve that to an “A” through diligence, Dorathy said. But if he or she chose not to participate in remote learning, the lowest the grade could fall was to a “C”.
“The grace being that as long as I participated and completed my work I was going to maintain my third-quarter grade,” Dorathy said of the plan.
At the elementary and middle school levels, students either received a pass, fail or incomplete on the grades, based on their level of involvement, he said.
Eudora followed a similar plan, allowing students who did not participate or communicate with their teachers to see a “minor” drop, said Mark Dodge, a spokesman for the school district.
Dodge said the worst that middle school students could see their grade drop was to 59%, which is a failing grade, because they did not engage. The middle school then assigned a pass or fail grade for the fourth quarter.
The high school did the same, but with a possible bottom grade of 55% for not engaging. While the high school historically assigns grades by semesters, Dodge said the school this year split the spring semester into quarters.
“At Eudora Schools, we emphasized grace, while also promoting student engagement in the ‘at-home learning’ process,” Dodge said in an email. “While our buildings may have been closed, we wanted our families and students to know education would continue.”
However, those plans left the possibility of students’ grades being hurt by changes in the learning environment as a result of being at home vs. at school. Educators have already expressed concerns about the “COVID slide,” a term used to describe a possible slip in students’ retention of their education because of the changed circumstances brought on by the pandemic.
Dorathy said his school district thought its plan was the right move to ensure that students continued to learn in unfamiliar circumstances.
“We chose this route as we felt it was the best way to motivate students to complete work and stay engaged,” Dorathy said.
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