Schools revamp grading policies amid shift to remote learning

Schools are changing the way they grade student work during Idaho’s extended stay-home order.

And administrators say finding the right metric is a balancing act.

“We want students to engage and show effort toward learning yet hold them harmless for the new hurdles they face to do so,” Payette Superintendent Robin Gilbert told EdNews.

Idaho’s districts and charters can change their grading procedures to account for challenges tied to the recent statewide shift to remote learning. As a result, new methods for gauging student progress — or a lack thereof — vary.

EdNews surveyed K-12 administrators for a broader look at changes so far:

  • Of 72 respondents, 44 said they’re adopting at least some form of a pass-fail grading model, as opposed to the traditional practice of assigning letter grades.
  • Twenty said they are staying the course with traditional grades, but some appear to be easing up on prior requirements.
  • Others are still ironing out details.

“We decided to wait until we had settled into distance learning before making decisions about grading, so I don’t have any answer yet,” Fruitland Superintendent Teresa Fabricius told EdNews.

Schools in the Boise district may allow student work to count, but “only if it will increase their academic standing,” district spokesman Dan Hollar said. As a result, graded work cannot negatively impact a student’s GPA.

The Nampa district likewise prohibits a negative impact, but grading procedures there vary by age:

  • Middle school and high school teachers will ensure that end-of-year grades are no lower than they were prior to a March 20 disruption to school, said Nampa spokeswoman Kathleen Tuck. These students can improve their grades by completing prior incomplete work and “engaging in continued learning online.”
  • Teachers can’t “penalize” Nampa’s elementary students for not turning in work, Tuck said, but those who don’t provide enough material to ensure a learning standard has been met will receive a mark of NE for “no evidence” of learning.

“This documentation will help us know what gaps might exist as we return to school in the fall,” said Tuck.

East Idaho’s large districts have also tweaked requirements.

“We do not plan to give traditional grades for third trimester work,” said Idaho Falls district spokeswoman Margaret Wimborne.

Instead, Idaho Falls teachers will “give feedback” on work completed remotely. High schoolers in the district will receive “Pass” or “Incomplete” marks based on common end-of-course assessments.

The Rexburg-based Madison district’s “A/B/P/I” system allows teachers to award traditional A’s or B’s to students who have been “diligent in their home-based learning efforts,” Superintendent Geoff Thomas said.

“P” stands for Pass, and grants a student credit without impacting their GPA. An “I” assigns students an Incomplete grade and gives them a future opportunity to complete their work.

“With home and our online efforts being so uneven, we wanted to adjust the grading so students would receive credit for their efforts, and not be academically punished due to any potential illness or online limitations,” Thomas said.

Teachers in the nearby Bonneville district will shape instruction around “no more than five essential learning outcomes” per course and interject mastery-based learning elements into a new model. These include letting students complete activities and assessments at their own pace and providing marks of either “Insufficient” or “Proficient.”

Click here for Bonneville’s entire policy, which trustees approved during a Wednesday board meeting.

The nearby Blackfoot School District has a framework similar to Bonneville’s but has yet to settle on a process to gauge learning, said Blackfoot Superintendent Brian Kress.

Charters are also navigating changes. Kelly Trudeau, principal of Meridian-based Compass Charter school, said teachers have heightened their focus on core subjects: English, math, science and social studies. Teachers will use standard-referenced grades in these areas. Non-core classes, such as PE and art, will use a pass-fail model.

Meridian Technical Charter High School principal Randy Yadon said his teachers have “extended deadlines, adapted tests and quizzes to be taken at home, lessened the amount of work and prioritized the concepts.”

In a recent email, Yadon implored parents to help kids continue to turn in assignments so teacher could grade them.

“Your education should not be optional,” Yadon said. “It is too important to not value.”

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed data to this story. 

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow and the Idaho Press Club's 2019 print reporter of the year. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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