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District: Pass/fail grading helps students without negative consequences

Carson City School District
The Carson City School District is moving secondary students to a pass/fail grading system for the second semester of the 2019-20 school year. Courtesy
grading

The Carson City School District will transition all secondary students to a pass/fail grading system for the second semester of the 2019-20 school year. The decision comes as principals, instructional leaders, district-level administrators and members of the teachers’ union have discussed the extension of school closures following spring break. 

“In our discussions to address the needs of our families and students at the close of this extraordinary school year, we have used as a guiding principle the idea to ‘do no harm’ to students,” said Richard Stokes, superintendent for the Carson City School District. “This statement will mean different things to different students given the many circumstances of individual families. As such, within the pass/fail grading system at the secondary level, we have implemented a process where a student or his or her family may appeal or petition the school principal to post the student’s letter grades in lieu of the pass/fail grade to the final transcript.”

Moving to pass/fail grading will benefit the staff and students without negative consequences for students with collegiate aspirations, he said. Universities across the country have made it clear that students will not be penalized for missing traditional standardized tests or for posting credit or no credit transcripts for this semester.

The Carson City School District has created this one-semester change in practice to post spring semester credits without positively or negatively impacting grade point averages. The district further explained colleges lean heavily on an official document called the “School Profile,” which explains circumstances to colleges, including graduation requirements, grade point average calculations, honors/AP courses, average SAT/ACT scores and other elements that make schools unique. 

In this case, the shift to pass/fail grading in the face of a national pandemic will be described within both of the district’s high schools’ “School Profiles.” The move is temporary and will be discontinued when students and staff return to school in the fall.

“Grading policies must take the needs of all students into account, including those of English learners, homeless and foster youth and those with differing access to digital learning and other tools or materials,” said Tasha Fuson, associate superintendent of Educational Services for the Carson City School District. “Fortunately, there are many different ways students can demonstrate understanding of standards. Teachers can give students a range of options in how they demonstrate their understanding of essential standards, allowing them to utilize strategies, technologies or platforms with which they are already familiar and that fit their differing context and needs.”

Teachers also might need to consider their overall learning goals; alternative means of administering tests, projects and other assessments; adaptations to assignments; revised weighting in individual teacher gradebooks and prioritizing the assessment of student mastery of essential standards, she continued.

For students with disabilities, any changes to learning strategies or grading policies should, as appropriate, be done in conjunction with the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) to ensure that the changes respond to their learning needs.

Additionally, individual schools will need to establish policies for how students can make up late or missing work due to illness. Schools and teachers should reevaluate existing policy and make necessary changes based on the unique demands of distance learning, taking into account the need to be flexible given the public health crisis.

Assigning a grade in a distance learning context might require teachers to reconsider the kinds of materials they provide to and accept from students, Fuson said. Online resources, mobile applications and Web platforms can help teachers provide flexible means of furthering instruction. When students are working at home from other materials, these can be shown or displayed by photographs attached to text messages where computers are not used or accessible.

Dual enrollment policies, including grading, will be determined based on the agreement between Western Nevada College and CCSD. Currently, Math 095/096 and English 095/098 teachers will post pass/fail grades. All 100 level or higher courses will follow WNC specific guidelines for grading.

Middle school students who do not have the credits needed for promotion will be promoted to ninth grade at Pioneer High School for the 2020-21 school year. PHS will create intervention plans to assist these students in their transition to high school.

Elementary school packets have been created for kindergarten through fifth grade. The packets will contain ELA, math, computer, music and physical education assignments from April 20 through June 3 in anticipation of a potential extension of remote learning beyond May 1. Elementary school sites will arrange for parents and families for the packet pickup Tuesday and/or Wednesday. Packets also will be available online on the district website or at each individual elementary school website where previous Student Assignments were available.

Elementary schools will not prepare fourth-quarter report cards if students do not return for in-seat assessment as teachers will not have enough evidence of student learning to make an appropriate evaluation of student progress.