by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Not using Ds or Fs during distance learning for students at Winona Senior High School (WSHS) and the Winona Area Learning Center (ALC) is being evaluated by Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) staff members in light of guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).
The WAPS Board will address that plan for grading in a vote at its meeting this Thursday on proposed changes to the 2019-2020 student handbooks.
Not using Ds and Fs is being considered in a time of substantial changes for education. Students did not take the MCAs (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments) this year. Districts and the state are working through how to help students who get behind academically. It is uncertain whether in-person classes will resume in the fall, as well.
“A student should not be reported as a failure and retained or given an F during this unprecedented situation,” the MDE guidance reads. “Districts and schools should consider reporting an ‘in progress’ for students who have not demonstrated mastery, and give students additional time during and after distance learning to demonstrate mastery and complete content.”
With the current distance learning grading system in place at WSHS, focus is being placed more on summative assessments, such as a test given at the end of a unit of study, rather than grading everything students do each day, WAPS Superintendent Annette Freiheit said at the WAPS Board meeting on May 7. Traditional grades are used, students are not docked for late work and work can be turned in at any time. “But guidance from the Department of Education is really discouraging the D or F or failure or retention of students, so using that information and having some conversations with staff, there are going to be some slight alterations to that plan before it comes to the board on May 21,” Freiheit shared.
Changes include grades for quarters three and four at WSHS being A, B, C, pass or no credit. Teachers would accept work and assessments until the end of the term’s grading period.
A conference including a teacher, counselor, and administrator would take place if no credit is being considered for a student. A special education coordinator would be included if the student is part of the special education program. A final determination on the grade would be made by administrators.
Under the distance learning grading system that is used now at the ALC, As, Bs and Cs are given. Students with Ds or Fs keep working on the courses until they earn at least a C. No penalties are given for late assignments.
At Winona Middle School, grades for second semester would be pass or unsatisfactory progress. There would be no official grades for elementary students for third and fourth quarters. Rather, teachers would provide families with feedback on students’ progress.
The WAPS Board will vote this Thursday on an addition to the student handbook that reflects grading during distance learning. If approved, the language would be included with the 2019-2020 student handbook, as well as future handbooks until it is no longer deemed to be required.
The proposed language features quotes from MDE guidance regarding grading during the pandemic. The quotes center on not retaining students or giving them Fs at this time and acknowledging that access to equipment and information, in addition to the environment for work and learning, varies from student to student.
“The guidance from our Department of Education is, because of the inequities of access or whatever there might be, it’s really, ‘What is in the best interest of students?’ and that we do no harm,” Freiheit noted.
The district is also collaborating with Infinite Campus to have a banner stating that schools were in a distance learning period and students’ post-secondary plans should not be hampered by this fact appear with transcripts, Freiheit explained.
“There is also guidance I believe coming from our higher education in conjunction with the Department of Education to help with that, because there is the concern of students being impacted as they move into college, so we want to make sure we’re being really cognizant of that,” Freiheit said.
A note from WAPS about grades from the distance learning period would be added to transcripts and report cards from 2020 to 2023. The message would be included on transcripts and report cards in years beyond 2023 if necessary.
“Future use of these grades for academic placement, admission, acceleration or remediation is discouraged and should only be used with caution after balancing the information against student performance in other grading periods,” the note reads.
Freiheit noted that there were no other areas of the distance learning plans that required updating.
“So our staff just worked really hard in getting prepped and making sure we’re going to make it all the way through the end of the year,” Freiheit shared, “and make sure we’re finding ways to help support our families, as it gets a little harder every day I think for them to balance the workload and their lives and the situations they find themselves in.”
The WAPS Board meets this Thursday at 6 p.m. The meeting may be viewed at https://winonak12mnus.finalsite.com/district/school-board/live-stream.