State mandates and local control: grading policies vary widely among districts during school closures

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With school buildings in Washington state closed, educators and families have waited anxiously for more concrete details about what distance learning will look like for the rest of the school year. Districts over the past two weeks moved from a treading water format where students were given enrichment work to maintain skills but with no new content being covered, to something more closely approximating the real thing. And a big issue around this new form of learning is whether and how work would be graded.

State steps in with grading guidelines

On April 22, 2020 Washington’s Department of Education (OSPI) issued guidelines for grading. Here’s a handy summary courtesy of the Issaquah School District:

  • Do no harm.
  • Every student will get an opportunity to improve their grade with their March 17 status as a baseline.
  • No student will receive a “pass,” “fail,” or “no credit” grade for any course.
  • Teachers will assign grades or assign an “incomplete” for students who cannot engage in an equitable way.
  • Every class taken during the closure period will be given a statewide designator on the high school transcript to denote the unique environment in which the course was taken.
  • Students assigned an “incomplete” for a course will be given opportunities to reengage in the learning standards based on local school district decisions in consultation with the student/parents/guardians.
  • All students will be given an opportunity to engage in continuous learning to maintain or improve their mastery of essential standards.

But what about local control?

Because Washington remains a local control state, districts are (still) free to develop their own systems to meet these parameters, which is why we’re seeing differences between districts as to grading and instruction. And yes, there are some pretty substantial differences. Some districts are sticking with traditional letter grades (except for F’s because of OSPI’s rules) while others are going a different (and somewhat more controversial) route.

We’ve compiled the grading policies for high school students (which includes middle school students taking courses that count for high school credit) for the districts we typically cover and set them out below, including links to more detailed information. We’ll update it as districts clarify and enhance their policies.

Bellevue School District – Students will be graded either with an “A” or “I” (for incomplete).

Here are more details on how the system will work from the Bellevue School District website:

Students in grades 9-12 will receive an “A” if they regularly engage in the assigned activities and meet the minimum curriculum standards. Students who do not engage with learning assigned by their teacher(s) or do not meet minimum curriculum standards will receive an “I” (for incomplete). All teachers are committed to following up with students often to encourage participation. Incompletes can be made up anytime during summer school or fall semester. Additional guidance will be provided to high school educators, students and families.

Everett School District – Students will be graded on the A, B, C or Incomplete criteria. 

Here is more detail from the district website about the criteria for those grades.

Every student will get an opportunity to improve their grade with their March 17 status as a baseline. No grade will go down from the March 17 baseline. No student will receive a “pass,” “fail,” or “no credit” grade for any course.

Any student can improve their grade by showing frequent or consistent engagement, or by showing progress to standards.

A or 4.0 on the 4.0 grading scale: This is for students who had an A on March 17, or who had a lower grade and has shown both progress to standards and has shown engagement during distance learning.

B or 3.0 on the 4.0 grading scale: This is for students who had a B on March 17, or who had a lower grade and has shown either progress to standards or has shown engagement during distance learning.

C or 2.0 on the 4.0 grading scale: This is for students who had a C on March 17 and is also the foundational target for teachers to work with students who had lower than a C, to engage them in learning.  

I (Incomplete) Is the rare option for circumstances that might warrant it. Students assigned an “incomplete” for a course will be given opportunities to reengage in the learning standards according to a district process to be developed soon.

Issaquah School District for the current term, students will earn letter grades as outlined in the syllabus by their teacher, but not lower than the grade they had at the closure of school.  All students will have the opportunity to earn a higher grade by engaging meaningfully with their coursework. No students will earn an F grade, but will earn a letter grade (A, B, C or D) or an incomplete.
The District walks through scenarios of how the grading system would work. Here are the examples they provided.

  • Student 1 had a B at the closure in Biology and that student works very hard through the closure and through the teacher’s assessment of the student’s performance of the essential new learnings, the student receives a B or higher. 
  • Or Student 2 had a B+ at the closure, but, despite engaging with the teacher and the content, struggled with some of the new content and remote essential new learning.  That student will still have a B+ at the end of the term.
  • Or Student 3 had a C at the closure and could not engage with the coursework at all. The teacher has no way to assess the essential learning with nothing turned in. This student will earn an Incomplete and work with his or her counselor to engage in one of our credit recovery options (like summer school, an online course offering, or another credit recovery option appropriate for that student).
  • Or Student 4 had an F at the closure and could not engage with the coursework.  This student will earn an Incomplete and work with his or her counselor to engage in one of our credit recovery options (as noted in the example above).
  • Student 5 had P/F grading in his or her IEP.  That student will remain eligible to earn a P or incomplete grade.

Lake Washington School Districtafter surveying staff, families and students (7000 families and students/300 teachers) Lake Washington School District announced their grading policy. Short version: students will receive As or Incompletes. Students must remediate Incompletes prior to graduation from high school.

Here are the relevant excerpts from the new policy.

High school teachers will continue to grade and provide feedback on student work and assessments that are assigned and collected remotely.

Students must engage in the learning process and show proficiency based on the new remote learning course expectations to receive a grade.

At the end of second semester, students enrolled in credit-bearing high school courses who have a passing grade in the Skyward gradebook for the semester will be assigned an “A” with a COVID-19 designation on their transcript for each course completed or an “I” for incomplete.

  • The grade on the transcript will be reflected in students’ GPA. 
  • Incomplete, “I” designations will not earn credit and will not be reflected in the GPA.  
  • Information from 2019-20 gradebooks may be used to provide information to teachers, students and families about students’ progress

An Incomplete will be used to communicate that a teacher was not able to determine proficiency of the essential learning standards for the course, which could be attributed to a variety of factors. 

Students who do not engage in the learning process or are unable to demonstrate that they have met essential standards for courses will receive an “Incomplete.” 

When assigning an “Incomplete” to a student, a teacher must identify the specific standards the student was unable to meet and the steps taken to demonstrate meeting the standard.

Examples of options for students earning an incomplete to earn a grade may include:

  • Independent study
  • Courses taken in the following term or year  
  • Competency-based courses 
  • Summer school 
  • Online courses 

Backfilling the incomplete designation with a letter grade once proficiency is demonstrated in the next course taken in that subject area sequence

A student must resolve an ‘Incomplete’ before they graduate from high school. By graduation, students should be given multiple opportunities to resolve the ‘Incomplete.’ Additional information about the process for working with students who have an incomplete will be provided in future updates.

Mercer Island School District for the remainder of the school year, high school students will earn either an “A” or incomplete.
In its “Continuity of Learning Plan” the District spells out in greater detail how the grades will be determined. From the plan:

  • Students who engage and persevere in the learning process and demonstrate learning to pass or show proficiency in the current coursework based on the new expectations in this remote learning environment, will earn an “A.”
  • Students who do not engage in the learning process and are unable to demonstrate having met standards of the current course based on the new expectations in this remote learning environment, will receive an “Incomplete.” The “Incomplete” may be converted to an “A” (or “P” Pass in some circumstances) by the end of the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, in the following situations:
    • The student completes the requisite coursework and demonstrates having met the standards of the coursework during 2020 summer school/extended learning; or
    • The student completes the requisite coursework and demonstrates learning to pass the course through extended learning completed in fall 2020; or
    • The student takes and passes an online class that has been determined by District staff to be commensurate with the class for which the student earned the “Incomplete;” or
    • The student completes an alternative pathway that shows proficiency commensurate with the class for which the student earned the “Incomplete.” Approval and authorization of an Alternative Pathway is at the discretion of the school principal.
    • The District recognizes that this unprecedented time in education may present unique circumstances that lead to an alternative pathway for a student to change an “Incomplete” to letter grade and credit. Thus, the District is leaving open an opportunity for a student to work with their academic counselor and school principal to develop an alternative path to proficiency and course completion.   

Northshore School District will use an A, B or I (“Incomplete”) for its high school students for the remainder of the school year.

From Northshore’s “Grading Practices for the Second Semester” policy:

A or 4.0 on the 4.0 grading scale: This grade is for students who have had consistent or frequent engagement. Consistent or frequent engagement means that a student engages through at least two of the four methods of engagement for each of their classes at least 6 out of the 10 weeks between the weeks of March 30 and June 15.

B or 3.0 on the 4.0 grading scale: This grade is for students who are adequately engaged. Adequate engagement means that a student engages through at least one of the four methods of engagement for each of their classes at least 4 out of the 10 weeks between the weeks of March 30 and June 15.

I (Incomplete): This is an option for circumstances that might warrant an Incomplete. An incomplete will be made as a team decision between the teacher, counselor and principal. The Incomplete grade will be reviewed during the 2020-21 school year. Options to convert an Incomplete grade include the following:

For classes with corresponding courses in the sequence, the first semester grade of the 2020-21 school year will be given as a grade for the Incomplete.

For classes with no corresponding courses in the sequence, a student may choose to keep the Incomplete or: 1. Turn in an artifact of their choosing to reflect what they learned from the 2019-20 course up to the school closure; 2. Turn in an artifact of their choosing to share a significant learning that occurred during the school closure. Students who elect to turn in an artifact will receive a B. Grades will be based on a student’s engagement with the lessons and learning activities.

Teachers will provide students with feedback on their academic work and checks for understanding around academic standards and learning outcomes for the purposes of supporting student progress in learning. Grades will not be based on percentages or any assessment of learned material.

Riverview School District will use an “A” or Incomplete grading system. From the district website:
High school grading will be based on an A/Incomplete (I) standard. An “A” indicates the student has successfully passed the course. An “I” indicates the student has not met reasonable teacher expectations to pass the course. Students will be responsible for 2-3 content area standards per course. Students receiving an “I” grade will receive a written plan to meet course expectations at a passing level.  We are expecting very few students to receive an Incomplete.  More guidance on incomplete grades and how they will be made-up is forthcoming. 

Snoqualmie Valley School District will use an A, B, C, D or I (Incomplete) grading system for grades 6 through 12.

From the district website:

  • Every student will have the opportunity to improve grades during the closure, using their grades at the time of closure as a baseline for improvement.
  • Grades of “F,” “Pass,” and “No Credit” cannot be assigned. (There is one exception, however; if a student has Pass/Fail grading in an IEP, the student will remain eligible to earn a Pass.)
  • Teachers will assign final letter grades (A – D). When insufficient evidence is available to determine a final grade (such as a lack of student participation during the closure), teachers will assign an “Incomplete” (I).
  • Students assigned an (I) or in jeopardy of receiving an (I) for a course will be given opportunities and support to complete enough work to receive a letter grade (A – D), equivalent to their grades at the time of closure.
  • Students, whose work declines leading to a final grade that is lower than their grades at the time of closure, will be given opportunities and support to earn a final grade equivalent to their grades from the March closure date.
  • We will be sending building-level communication to each student’s family in the near future about the student’s academic status at the time of the closure, and progress since the closure.

Stay current on grading policies and other issues impacting your student and family while schools are closed by checking our Facebook page or our website regularly.