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During COVID-19, School Districts Struggle with Grades

Front entrance of elementary school
The Virginia Department of Education has recommended that schools not grade work for the remainder of the academic year. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

School’s out for the rest of the academic year, but school districts still have to decide how students’ grades are calculated for the third and fourth quarters.

The Virginia Department of Education has advised school districts to not grade work as students learn remotely. Virginia is one of a handful of states that has cancelled in-person classes for the rest of the school year.

Some districts, like Henrico County Public Schools and Richmond City Public Schools, have decided not to give elementary school students letter grades. Instead, they will receive an S for “Successful,” or N for “Needs Improvement” based on work already completed.

In Chesterfield County Public Schools, teachers will have individual calls with parents between April 27 to May 15 to determine elementary grades. According to the district’s policy, students in grades two through five can elect to have the third marking period grade converted from a letter grade to a P for pass in each subject area.

But there’s a big difference in how districts are handling grades for middle and high school students. Henrico is allowing students who wish to improve their grades an opportunity to do so by submitting additional work.

According to Henrico’s new temporary grading policy, “Many students were counting on the next few months to improve their grades and meet their goals for the year. Middle and high school students who wish to do so will have the opportunity to continue to work with their teachers to improve grades between April 14 and April 24.” 

Richmond, on the other hand, decided not to go that route, fearing it would put students who are suffering the most during the pandemic at a greater disadvantage.

“We’re going in a different direction because we’re considering all of the inequities that are created from both the teacher standpoint as well as the student standpoint in terms of trying to complete makeup work,” chief schools officer Harry Hughes told the district’s school board Monday night. “We still have students who don’t have computers, don’t have internet access, are now primary caregivers of their siblings or with relatives...there would then be questions around how work could be turned in.”

Hughes pointed out that some teachers also don’t have access to computers and the internet. If the district did allow students to submit handwritten work to teachers, he says there would be concerns due to questions about how COVID-19 spreads on surfaces.

Richmond Public Schools has asked teachers to mark any missing assignments as “exempt.” They’re also raising grades by 50 percent on failed assignments from the third quarter, since students can’t make up work.

For final grades, both districts will be taking the average grades from the first three quarters. According to Andy Jenks, spokesperson for Henrico County Public Schools, these new grade calculations will determine whether or not a student will advance to the next grade level.

“Grade level advancement involves the new grading formula, plus any work the student does to improve his or her grade starting next week. We’re exploring various options for students who need to retake one or more courses,” Jenks wrote to VPM in an email. For elementary students, Jenks says a student would only repeat a grade if that was a consideration prior to school closures.

Danielle Pierce, spokesperson for Richmond Public Schools, says grades are just one part of a retention decision. Pierce says the administration will present retention policy recommendations to the school board for approval.

Seth Stephens, spokesperson for Petersburg City Public Schools, says the district will consider its grading policies during the next school board meeting on April 15.

Both Chesterfield County Public Schools and Hanover County Public Schools are allowing students to submit work to help improve their grades at all grade levels. In Chesterfield, students have until April 24 to submit work for the third quarter, but any additional work assigned to students after April 14 will not be graded. The district plans to use the first three quarters of student grades to calculate final grades (70 percent across first two quarters, 30 percent in the third quarter).

In Hanover, students have until May 15 to submit work to help improve third quarter grades. They also have to submit three assignments for each class by May 29, even though fourth quarter grades for the work won’t be calculated.

Chris Whitley, spokesperson for Hanover County Public Schools, said paper packets are available for students without access to the internet or devices. 

“We understand that packet pick-up may be difficult or impossible for some families,” Whitley said in an email to VPM. “If you are unable to do so, please contact your student’s school directly to make other arrangements.  Schools will provide the appropriate contact information in their messaging.”

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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