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Board adopts grading plan

Middle and high school students in Suffolk Public Schools will receive pass/fail grades in their fourth-quarter classes under the grading plan adopted unanimously by the School Board Thursday.

The division’s Virtual SPS and Mastery SPS learning modules will be used for the rest of the academic year. A passing fourth-quarter grade in Virtual SPS — for students in grades 6-12 — will be averaged as an A, while a failing grade will receive an F. The fourth-quarter grade will represent 10 percent of a secondary student’s final grade.

Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III said the division wanted to assign A grades as passing, in part, because it did not want to hurt any students looking to play college sports, because the NCAA assigns a D grade to anyone who is assigned a P grade for passing a course. He also said he wanted to provide a tangible incentive for students to do the work. The plan took the division about two-and-a-half weeks to put together, Gordon said.

Each of the first two quarters of work for high school students represented 31 percent of their final grade, with the midterm counting eight percent and the third quarter – which was to run from Jan. 30 to Friday – counting 20 percent. The fourth quarter – from April 20 to June 5 – will count as 10 percent of a student’s final grade.

Grades for middle school students in the first two quarters count for 35 percent each, and then 20 percent in the third quarter.

Secondary students will use the Edgenuity program for core courses and world languages, and Google Classroom for others. Edgenuity is already used by the division for students needing additional help or trying to catch up in a class, as well as in summer school. They receive video lessons of skills covered in the class, as well as notes, other resources and assignments and quizzes to assess what they’ve learned.

According to Dr. LaToya Harrison, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, Edgenuity does not replace teachers. Rather, she said they are expected to supplement and support student learning in the platform and provide help to students who need it.

Students will keep the spring break scheduled for this week, and then Virtual SPS will begin April 20. Secondary teachers have been using various digital learning resources and learning plans for the past four weeks to review content already taught.

“This is our way to address the potential learning loss that could happen if our secondary students aren’t getting new material that’s being taught,” Gordon said.

He said he received data Thursday from the state Department of Education that shows a five to 10 percent loss of learning over the summer for students from what they had learned during the school year.

“Due to the fact that we’ve been out of school since March 13, in some areas, especially for those students who are transitioning into sixth grade, their learning loss is as if they just started school in October,” Gordon said, “and that’s something that we’re very concerned about.”

That’s why he said it is important to continue student learning during the coronavirus pandemic and the state of emergency. He believes the pass/fail option, with student scores of at least a 63 receiving an A grade, give them a strong incentive to do the work. He also wanted a plan that balanced the needs of teachers who are keeping office hours and helping their classes on a daily basis while managing families at home.

In explaining the Virtual SPS plan, Harrison said even though about 12 weeks of school will have been missed, the division only has to make up a few weeks of new content that was to be covered before the end of the year due to spring state testing.

“With the VDOE waiver of spring state testing, this actually allows the last quarter of the school year to really be devoted to the teaching of this new content,” Harrison said. “And so that did actually give us some more time back for instruction, which we’re grateful for that.”

Harrison said special education case managers, teachers and related service providers, and general education teachers who work with special education and English-language learning students have set office hours to give added learning support during virtual learning.

A secondary student who fails a course will be allowed to take it in the summer, or at their next opportunity if summer school is canceled.

School Board member David Mitnick asked how long students would have to spend online for the courses. Gordon said the courses are self-paced, so the time they spend online is up to them and how much they need, though it may fluctuate. Harrison said each Edgenuity class is designed for about 25 minutes per day, or no more than two-and-a-half hours per day for all classes, and 25 hours total per course.

Elementary school students, under what the division is calling its Mastery SPS plan, will not receive report cards for the fourth quarter. Teachers will review any grades of 0, missing or incomplete for assignments, and if the student hasn’t had enough time to make up the work, they are to be removed from the gradebook entirely. Grades for the first two quarters will represent 40 percent of their final grade, and the third quarter the other 20 percent.

Essential skills and content not covered in the current school year will be integrated into next year’s curriculum for elementary students.

The division has also contracted with Scholastic Inc. to send elementary students a 10-week packet around April 20. He said continuity of learning materials will be posted on the division’s website on that date, May 11 and May 25. WHRO will also be launching VA TV Classroom to broadcast on TV for those who may not be able to access other distance learning options because they don’t have high speed internet. Content will cover grades K-10 and will begin April 13.

Gordon addressed the upcoming learning changes in a letter to parents Friday, in which he also outlined issues that were brought up during his Facebook Live chat Wednesday, including people who want to get meal refunds for graduating seniors or others wanting a meal refund. Seniors will also have their community service requirement waived.

He noted that the current meal distribution schedule will continue, even through spring break.