SVSD Temporarily Modifies Grading Policy in Special Meeting on 1/26/21

[Guest article by Linda Grez]

The Meeting’s main topic was a Resolution regarding a Temporary Change in grading policies for the 2020-2021 school year.   After a robust discussion, the Resolution was passed, which allows ‘the Superintendent or designee to implement an emergency grading procedure as the Superintendent or designee determines appropriate.’

‘The district will demonstrate a good faith effort to help individual students meet credit-based graduation requirements and earn grades reflective of learning outcomes. The district will consult with the individual student and make a reasonable effort to consult with a students’ parent or guardian and make a reasonable effort to provide information about this emergency procedure in the student’s preferred languages and of the parent or guardian of the student, as needed.

This emergency grading procedure will acknowledge the actions of students who can demonstrate improved learning outcomes during the remainder of the 2020-21 school year only and therefore will include the practice for the 2020-2021 school year allowing second-semester grades to replace first semester grades for all credit-bearing graduation required courses with second-semester grades if said grades are higher in value.

‘[T]he district will consider equity in administering the emergency procedure. This consideration will seek to identify and mitigate potential disparate impacts of the emergency procedure and determine if any changes to the district’s approach in administering the emergency procedure are needed before the conclusion of the 2020-2021 school year. …This resolution expires on August 31, 2021, and the force of the resolution sunsets on that day.’

School Board Director Fancher noted that 45 of 56 School Districts in the state have or will be considering grading practice changes for this year.

Failing Grades Doubled Under Remote Learning

Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash

A discussion led by Assistant Superintendent Ginger Callison covered current high school student grades as of today, noting that 14.4% have at least 1 failing grade (263 students) versus the same period last year (Fall 2019) in which 6.5% of students failed at least 1 class.  Other grades overall are somewhat lower as well.

Successful interventions for students have already lowered the number of failing grades from near 25% in November.  Grades 11 and 12 have had the lowest average daily Attendance.

The District continues to analyze which students are most affected to look for patterns and opportunities to serve them better.

GPA’s are Permanent Records and Credits are Required for Graduation

Many students are concerned about permanent GPA damage after struggling in the first semester.    They have fallen so far behind on assignments that some are overwhelmed and don’t feel able to catch up.  With the new Grading policy, the District expects students to feel motivated to engage back into their studies and earn a good grade for the second semester, which would qualify them to have their first-semester grade raised and allow for earned class credit towards graduation. 

Remote Learning Magnifies Inequities

Widely varying conditions at home affect students’ remote work.  Some are supervising younger siblings with little uninterrupted time for their own work, and some have dedicated parent involvement.  It is fundamentally inequitable to grade them all, assuming they have the same resources for success, affecting their permanent GPAs and post-high school college and work opportunities.

Principal John Belcher and MSHS teachers Jamie Clay and Janell Klovdahl discussed the many ways teachers have been trying to assist students while maintaining an equitable grading practice within each subject class, such as personalized ‘F Contracts’ re-engage students with specific work actions.  

Other School Districts have considered implementing a ‘Pass’ grade policy option, but many colleges interpret that as a negative transcript mark versus an NC (no credit/withdrawal) grade.

SVSD School Board Student Reps Emma Cullen and Garner Brown shared student concerns about remote learning challenges, mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and lack of motivation, inequitable student challenges at home and social-emotional learnings from the whole COVID experience.

Colleges Expected to React to Grading Policy Changes

Principal Belcher said that he expects colleges are taking into account differing student situations this year.  He noted that recent SAT test changes show they are aware of systemic inequity among students and will be using different criteria to select students.  

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

It was acknowledged that no one policy could solve all the real challenges such as ‘Zoom’ fatigue and inequities at home, but teachers are trying their best to connect with struggling students.  This grading change is expected to motivate many students to re-engage.  Other supports are still needed to help many kids do the academic work and support their social/emotional well-being.

Students who were not failing but whose grades fall in semester 2 (a more difficult academic semester) will be encouraged to keep working and accept their earned grades unless there are unusual circumstances that require an equitable assessment.   Principal Belcher stated that teachers might assign students to perform work to match their Semester 1 grades in some cases.

Superintendent Search Flyer Approved

The second Agenda item was the review and approval of the ‘Superintendent Search Flyer’ for recruiting the District’s next Superintendent to follow Dr. Robert Manahan, who recently announced his retirement effective June 30, 2020.

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