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Pandemic paves way for grading changes in final months of school

Pandemic paves way for grading changes in final months of school

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Students in Somers Point and Upper Township will not receive a final grade for the third trimester at the end of this school year. Instead, teachers in the K-8 districts will provide feedback on how each student did during remote learning.

Somers Point Superintendent Michelle CarneyRay-Yoder said decisions to freeze grading for the end of the school year came after tough discussions within the district in light of the COVID-19 school closings that began in March.

“The district must balance what’s fair for students, considering varying levels of access to teachers along with technology, despite the district’s efforts to get families internet in their homes along with devices to work virtually. It is a balancing act because we also don’t want to communicate that it’s OK not to participate during the rest of the school year,” CarneyRay-Yoder said.

As the 2019-20 school year draws to a close, parents in many towns across the state may notice changes to their child’s report card as districts have had to decide just how to evaluate students under unprecedented circumstances.

In its guidance to teachers, the New Jersey Education Association has noted that careful consideration must be given when grading during the final months of the school year because “teaching under COVID-19 is not equivalent to the level of education provided — and the impact achieved — by New Jersey’s public schools at any other time.”

“Without traditional in-person attendance in schools, traditional grading policies will not be a true gauge of student progress,” reads the recent post on the union website. “They will more likely be a reflection of a family’s income and resources.”

The NJEA says lack of access to teachers and support staff, level of access to reliable devices or internet connections, inequity in in-home learning environments and parental support can all impact progress during the pandemic.

On April 13, the union published an advisory regarding grading policies and practices during the pandemic that suggests policies such as eliminating hard deadlines for work to be turned in, evaluating assignments on completeness instead of with numerical grades, and adopting pass and fail grades.

“It’s not business as usual, and it would be unethical to maintain traditional policies and practices as if it is. Instead of focusing on strict accountability for our students, we must refocus our energies toward empathy, grace and understanding,” the NJEA memo reads.

Some districts like Port Republic, a K-8 district, moved to a pass/fail system, while others, like Vineland and Egg Harbor Township, both K-12 districts, have decided to maintain current grading practices. (Egg Harbor Township rolled out a standards-based report card at the start of this year for kindergarten through fifth grade.)

Other school districts, such as Pleasantville, which serves 4,000 students in preschool through 12th grade, are amending their grading to pass-fail for its youngest students — preschool through first grade — but maintaining regular grading policies for its older students.

“The rest of the grades, we didn’t want to sacrifice any of their incentive to want to produce,” said interim Assistant Superintendent Carmine Bonanni. “There was a lot of discussion. The administrators all talked about it. It wasn’t an easy decision.”

In Barnegat Township, Superintendent Brian Latwis said the district is using a rubric for students but offered guidance to teachers on how to assess students on participation and encouraged them to be in communication with parents before a student receives a failing mark.

“While the rubric is floored at 50, it would be a shame to see any student receive a failing grade. Particularly if they are experiencing severe challenges at home, since we know that some students have adapted better to virtual learning than others,” the guidance from Barnegat reads.

Latwis said they are asking the teachers to prioritize work completion and participation over mastery of standards.

“We did not opt to go pass/fail as we felt that there were more questions than answers on how to implement, however we did raise the ‘bucket grade’ so that every student went into fourth marking period with a chance to pass for the year,” Latwis said.

Similarly, Buena Regional School District, which serves students in K-12, has also made changes to the manner of grading during the closing, which varies by grade level.

“We are grading and evaluating student performance during the school closing with compassion and flexibility in mind,” Superintendent David Cappuccio said. “Students and families are faced with unprecedented challenges socially, emotionally, medically and financially. We are doing our best to demonstrate to our school community our sincere desire to support them.”

Other districts that reported using a rubric and some discretion from teachers are Galloway Township and Woodbine.

“As per prior guidance, providing feedback is our main focus as it promotes learning,” Galloway Superintendent Annette Giaquinto said.

“Our school is participating in a resiliency initiative, and the rubric is reflective of the challenges facing our students and their families,” said Superintendent Anthony Devico of Woodbine.

Contact: 609-272-7251

Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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