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School districts reevaluate grading, finals amid closure

After a series of closures and program restrictions, Gov. Mike Parson issued an order on April 9 mandating the closure of all school districts.

While physical buildings may be closed, online classrooms remain open to provide students with ongoing educational resources in the midst of social distancing mandates.

For staff members in the Francis Howell and Fort Zumwalt school districts, the past few weeks have been filled with conversations about how to proceed with routine school business such as grading, finals and even the format of the school week.

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Fort Zumwalt School District

Following the April 9 order from Parson, the Fort Zumwalt School District announced that its Virtual Education Plan will in place for the remainder of the fourth quarter. The 2019-2020 school year is tentatively scheduled to end June 1 for early childhood students, elementary and middle schools. For high schools, the end date is June 2.

The district will continue to utilize Google Classroom to distribute assignments to students of all grade levels. Parents receive online email summaries of their students’ progress.

According to Superintendent Dr. Bernie DuBray, students will use Chromebooks for schoolwork, which were previously distributed to about 10,000 middle and high school students for online learning lessons.

“They’re one-to-one, they have those during the regular year as well and they get to take them home,” DuBray said. “So, we’ve had a little bit on online communication going back and forth between the kids. They’re used to that.”

At the elementary level, Chromebooks were primarily used in technology classes. Following the district closure, laptops were distributed to students that didn’t have access to a computer at home.

“We passed out several hundred Chromebooks to the kids that didn’t have them so we could facilitate that communication with them as well,” DuBray said.

Electronic learning is taking place at each grade level, although at different levels of intensity.

For students in kindergarten through second grade, the district’s website recommends instruction and assignments should not exceed 60 minutes per day. For grades three through five, it’s recommended that instruction time last 75 minutes per day. Teachers will provide ongoing feedback to parents. Teachers may assign grades in order to write progress narratives on report cards. Students will not receive a fourth quarter grade.

At the middle school level, teachers will develop weekly lessons and students will continue to engage in learning activities/assignments provided by their teachers. It’s recommended that students spend 20 minutes on assignments or classwork per course. Assignments will be taken for a grade. Instead of receiving a final letter grade, middle school classes will be marked as pass/fail.

“As long as kids make a good faith effort and meet a certain set of expectations, they’re not going to be penalized for the situation,” DuBray said.

At the high school level, students will continue to engage in weekly lessons, learning activities and assignments provided by their teachers, who will provide feedback and grades. According to the district website, daily increments of instruction and classwork should not exceed 20 minutes per student course. For college credit or AP coursework, 40 minutes of instruction per course is recommended. 

The district has also taken a “hold harmless” approach to grading, meaning that students will receive a grade no lower than the grade they had at the end of the third quarter provided they meet the minimum criteria.

High school students will receive a letter grade on their report card but will not take final exams.

“We’re pretty lenient at the high school level because we don’t want to really hammer kids,” DuBray said. “Their grade at the end of the third quarter is likely to be their grade at the end of the year, but they will continue to get grades throughout the fourth quarter.”

Francis Howell School District

The Francis Howell School District has also adopted a different set of grading credentials and classwork recommendations depending on grade level.

For early childhood and elementary school students, teachers are encouraged to limit new instruction to essential standards. No grades will be given, but teachers will still provide students with ongoing feedback. The maximum amount of learning time per day also varied by age range. For early childhood through grade one, more than 45 minutes per day is encouraged, according to the district’s website. For grades two and three, no more than 60 minutes per day is recommended, and for grades four and five, no more than 90 minutes per day is recommended.

Middle school students will participate in 30 minutes of work per class per day. Teachers are encouraged to submit one assignment to the gradebook per week, which will be graded on completion. Noncompletion of any assignments could potentially impact a student’s grade negatively.

The Francis Howell School District has also adopted a “hold harmless” approach to grading for both middle and high school students. A student’s grade can go up, but cannot be lower than their third quarter grade as long as students meet the minimum criteria of work completion. For middle school students, this includes the submission of 60% of assignments for classes, which are graded as pass/fail. For students taking classes for high school credit, a submission rate of at least 75% is required.

In high schools, students will be issued a letter grade in each class. For regular high school classes, students must attempt and submit 60% of assignments. Teachers will enter one grade per week into the gradebook. For AP, advanced credit or dual credit classes, a submission rate of at least 75% of assignments is required, which will be graded.

Final examinations have been suspended at both the middle school and high school level.

Ultimately, each district came to slightly different decisions regarding how to present e-learning. However, it’s likely that the decisions made during this time period will impact the structure of school far into the future.

For example, students will be better equipped to tackle assignments during future emergencies or even snow days, continuing their education online.

“I don’t think things are really ever going to go back to the way they were because, thanks to online work, we’ll be able to avoid anything like this in the future because we’ll be able to switch to that online learning style,” DuBray said. “The state next year will allow us to make-up time without missing time. We’ll be able to continue virtually. Like I said, I don’t think we’ll ever go back to exactly what we had, but I think online instruction will become part of the future.”

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