Now that the school year is over, many Atlanta-area public school students are waiting for their report cards. But this semester, the rules for giving grades changed, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Georgia Department of Education left grading decisions up to local districts but issued guidance on end-of-semester grades, including letting students redo assignments and adopting “no zero” policies for assignments given since schools shifted to a virtual format.
Most districts have said they won’t penalize students who weren’t able to log onto the internet to complete assignments. Generally, districts have said students can’t earn a lower grade than the one they had when schools switched to online learning in mid-March.
“Their grades for this semester all the way up to the last day for Fulton County Schools was March 12,” says Laurie Carroll, who teaches math to seventh and eighth graders with special needs in the Fulton County School System. “So…we cannot give them a grade that lowers that grade.”
At first, about a third of Carroll’s students were able to get online. Eventually, most gained access. She’s been able to spend extra time with students who were struggling.
“The ones that were at that point with me, they’ve been able to produce enough work the last couple of weeks where they’ve been able to get [higher grades],” she says.
Most districts have switched to pass/fail grades for younger students, and those who fail can make improvements over the summer. Some districts switched to pass/incomplete for students in elementary and middle schools.
“There’s no fair way to handle grades in the remote situation, but there was no fair way to do grades before either,” says Paul Thomas, an education professor at Furman University.
Thomas is not a fan of grades in general. He says they’re designed to work well for privileged students, but not as well for lower-wealth students.
“The pandemic is forcing us to see things that always existed,” he says. “So I don’t think the move to remote teaching created those inequities, but it certainly forces us to have to look at them. So grading was never fair to some students.”
Thomas is glad to see districts adjust their grading policies this semester.
“I actually think some of the emergency decisions are better,” Thomas says. “For instance, let’s not punish [students]. ‘Don’t change their grades down’ I think is an acknowledgment of equity and fairness.”
Carroll says for teachers, the new grading standards are a work in progress.
“We’ve never had to do this before,” she says. “And [it should] be chronicled in archives somewhere so that even future generations can see what we had to go through and what [did] education look like, what did life look like during this quarantine?”
Thomas says educators need to stop worrying about kids falling behind during the pandemic and trying to help them “catch up.”
“We just always need to start with wherever students are,” he said. “So it doesn’t really matter that the end of this year was disrupted. When we get back to some sort of normal, we should check where students are and simply start teaching there.”
He admits it won’t be easy.
“That is asking a lot of teachers, but honestly, that’s the way they should be teaching, whether it’s remote or hybrid or a traditional classroom,” he says.