Washington schools can’t fail students during coronavirus shutdown, superintendent says

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As students across the country engage in remote learning while the coronavirus pandemic forces schools to remain closed, Washington state announced a new “do no harm” grading policy that prevents districts from giving failing grades for the term.

With only eight weeks of the school year left, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said the new policy requires high school students to receive letter grades of either A, B, C, or an “incomplete, while “Fs will not be allowed — there will be no failures this term.”

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“Our policy is, ‘do no harm,'” Reykdal said during a media conference Wednesday. “Students won’t move backward…every student will have a chance to make progress.”

Students given an “incomplete” will be allowed to make up the credit through various methods including summer school, courses in the next term, independent study, and competency-based courses, according to the guidance.

A pass/fail system was ruled out as an option because it is not informative of student learning and could harm students applying to college or other future educational endeavors, Reykdal said.

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The state also will provide a special designation on student transcripts for classes taken during the coronavirus closure period, according to the guidance, so colleges are aware of the “unique environment in which the course was taken.”

Policies for students in grades K-8 will remain largely the same, the guidance stated, and students will “move on to the next grade” unless parents and teachers both agree that they should repeat a grade or part of the learning missed during the closures.

Meanwhile, the Seattle School District had earlier announced their high school students will all receive A’s or “incompletes” to reflect the difficulties of remote learning, the Seattle Times reported.

While some parents and teachers have been critical of Seattle’s choice, Reykdal directed questions as to whether the system was fair to the city and its parents, adding that “we did not pick it as a state choice,” according to the paper.

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Other states have also tweaked grading policies to deal with the hardships of learning remotely during the pandemic.

Oregon high school students will receive a pass or fail instead of letter grades for the final term, while North Carolina will freeze the grades of high school seniors at the time schools were closed and record them as pass/fail.