Coronavirus

Local schools struggle with do no harm grading system amid extended remote learning period

Schools implementing pass, incomplete system

Crystal Lake South freshman Gavin Kempf-Kutemeier, 14, works on e-learning activities from home on March 19 in Crystal Lake.
Crystal Lake South freshman Gavin Kempf-Kutemeier, 14, works on e-learning activities from home on March 19 in Crystal Lake.

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The governor’s remote learning extension order until April 30 now presents a new challenge for local school districts: grades.

How will students be graded, is the “million-dollar question” among many educators and school administrators, Harvard School District 50 Superintendent Corey Tafoya said. Grading on a traditional grading system may not be possible in this new learning environment, he said.

“Every district is trying to figure out this idea, because philosophically, I think everyone understands that in this time where we don't really understand what limitations people might have for time or WiFi or other things with e-learning," Tafoya said. “So everyone is struggling with this idea like how much do we present new material? How much do we hold students accountable knowing that we don't really see them like they're in the classroom?”

The Illinois State Board of Education is prohibiting e-learning assignments from negatively impacting students' academic standing during the suspension of in-person instruction.

The premise of ISBE’s do no harm rule is to not get caught up in grades, Tafoya said. Instead of grade letters, students will receive feedback, he said. School districts are implementing a pass/incomplete grading system. If a student completes their assignments, they get a pass. If a student fails to complete assignments, they receive an incomplete instead of a failing grade.

"We're agreeing with the state for philosophy that no child should be harmed by this. It’s a lot of stress on students. But, we're also trying to give them some motivation to continue their e-learning, which is going really well,” Woodstock District 200 spokesperson Kevin Lyons said. “So I think that’s the philosophy behind incomplete and passings. You won't get a grade, but it still counts. It still matters.”

At District 200, a student’s current grade as of March 13 will be maintained or improved and does not decrease for the semester grade, Lyons said. If a student had all A’s as of March 13, the student’s grades will remain intact through the end of the quarter/semester.

If a student at District 200 is unable to complete their work, they will be given an extra eight-week window to make up the work. District 200 elementary students will receive a third trimester report on work toward essential standards in reading, writing and math. District 200 middle-schoolers’ final course grade will be determined by the average of the first quarter, second quarter and third quarter grades.

The main challenge for schools now is navigating students’ “new reality.” With some students having to take care of siblings, working part-time jobs, or having limited access to the internet, there’s no way to predict students' circumstances and how much time they have to complete assignments, Tafoya said.

“We were talking with one of our principals this morning, who said, 'I just know of a student who actually had to get a job now because both parents have kind of ran into some difficulties, lesser hours at work,'” Tafoya said. “And so they're now working during the day, the student is out of jobs during the day, and then now they're doing their work at night. So if that person or that student was punished for not having the work done during the day, that's totally unfair, but they are doing things at night. And that's just the new reality.”

Because of these circumstances, Tafoya said, students will miss school work, so teaching new material will be difficult. He said that schools are considering re-teaching missed material from spring next fall or this summer.

In addition to changes coming with extended remote learning, the state of Illinois has canceled all state assessments for this year. Elementary and middle school students will not be taking the Illinois Assessment of Readiness or the Illinois Science Assessment.

The state is working to arrange an SAT test in the fall for all current high school juniors.

AP tests are scheduled to be given online this year.

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