Coronavirus news, 4.8.20: Ybarra leaves grading decisions to local school leaders amid pandemic

Sherri Ybarra

Schools chief Sherri Ybarra said she trusts local educators and administrators to make the best decisions regarding grading during extended closures due to the novel coronavirus.

Along with the extended school closures and the sudden shift to remote learning, questions over grading are one of the issues educators and families have been wondering about.

Speaking to superintendents and other local leaders during a Wednesday afternoon webinar, Ybarra said there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.

“Local school districts and leaders have full authority and flexibility to decide what grading method works best for their students during this crisis,” Ybarra said.

That means local schools may retain traditional grading methods, move to a pass/fail system, go with a mastery-based approach or anything else they think works best for them.

Ybarra said the State Board of Education is working with Idaho’s colleges and universities to develop a common understanding and more seamless approach between the K-12 and higher education systems during this uncertain time.

“I understand you have concerns around making sure any student that applies to postsecondary does not have a gap on their transcript,” Ybarra said.

Passing decision-making to the local level, has been a theme of the state’s response to the coronavirus.

  • In mid-March, Gov. Brad Little declined to issue a statewide closure order to schools, leaving it up to local districts and the State Board. Many districts promptly closed schools on their own.
  • When the State Board did extend its statewide closure of physical school buildings earlier this week, it added a caveat that local leaders could attempt to reopen if they meet forthcoming state criteria and get approval from local public health officials. The State Board decision stands in contrast to Oregon, a neighboring state with fewer confirmed coronavirus cases; on Wednesday, Gov. Kate Brown issued a statewide closure of all public schools through the rest of the academic year.
  • Now, Ybarra and the SDE want to allow local leaders to decide how they should approach grading during the disruption.

Ybarra and the SDE also offered several other updates before the webinar was cut short due to technical difficulties.

  • The state is considering two options for allowing juniors to take the SAT test now that the state has cancelled this month’s free SAT Day. Under one option, students receive a voucher to take the college entrance exam at their leisure. Under the other, this year’s juniors would take the test in the fall, as seniors.
  • SDE officials said they are waiting for the feds to release the applications for the local share of the stimulus package, which is estimated to total $48 million. Meanwhile, Little appointed a committee to oversee the spending of stimulus funds.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Ybarra and the SDE have used webinars as a tool to share rapidly changing information with local school leaders. Ybarra said she plans to continue hosting webinars each Wednesday afternoon. In the coming weeks, she will launch a virtual edition of her traditional post legislative tour briefing.

Confirmed cases update

At its 5 p.m. update Wednesday, the state’s coronavirus website and Idaho’s public health districts were reporting 1,255 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Idaho.

There are confirmed cases in 32 of Idaho’s 44 counties. The counties with the most cases are Ada (470), Blaine (428), Canyon (121), Twin Falls (55) and Kootenai (42).

ISU invites spring graduates to participate in later commencements

Idaho State University invited graduates who had planned to participate in spring commencement ceremony to do so at a later date.

The university floated three possible dates to students in an email Tuesday:

  • December 12, 2020.
  • May 8, 2021.
  • May 10, 2021 (in Boise).

Students can also participate in commencements after these dates, if it works better for students and their families.

ISU last month canceled its spring commencement amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.

Tuesday’s email also included the university’s rationale for not postponing the ceremony. “In a rapidly changing environment, we do not want to reschedule the ceremony for a later date this summer only to have to cancel again.”

Student hotspots in Pocatello see little use on first day

Internet hotspots for K-12 students in the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District garnered little use Wednesday, one day after the district shelled out thousands of Chromebooks for its online learning program.

EdNews spent three hours at free drive-up WiFi hotspots at Idaho State University’s Holt Arena and Pond Student Union parking lots — areas with free WiFi for local students, including those in the district.

One online college student without home internet logged onto the free WiFi during that time. No K-12 students were seen using the service.

Pocatello-Chubbuck spokeswoman Courtney Fisher said she expects more students to take advantage of the service in the coming days.

“Internet accessibility issues often coincide with transportation issues,” she said, adding that some students in the district had yet to check out a device for home use.

Fisher announced Monday that that Pocatello-Chubbuck checked out more than 7,100 Chromebook devices as part of the district’s remote-learning program, which also started Monday.

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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