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Education
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NC Board Approves Policy: No Letter Grades For Most Students This Year

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ANN DOSS HELMS
/
WFAE

The North Carolina Board of Education approved a policy Thursday that would mostly eliminate student letter grades for this school year, while leaving decisions about promotion to principals.

The 10 a.m. meeting came as families, employees and students wait to hear from Gov. Roy Cooper whether he'll extend the statewide school closing order past May 15. Cooper has said he'll make that announcement this week.

The proposed grading policy says there will be no final grades for K-5 students.  Grades 6-8 will get special "pass" or "withdraw" grades for the year.

High school students will have a choice:

  • Take the grade they had as of March 13, when schools closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Work to improve it through remote learning.
  • Take a "pass" grade, which provides credit but doesn't affect the grade-point average, if they're not satisfied with the grade.
  • Take a "withdraw" grade, which provides no credit but doesn't pull down the GPA. The policy says no students will get failing grades this year.

A similar pass/withdraw plan for graduating seniors was approved last month. The new options also apply to classes that were online before the closing, including those offered in virtual charter schools and other schools.
Needs Are Diverse

State officials said they consulted with students, educators, superintendents and college admission officials. Gaston County Superintendent Jeffrey Booker was part of the group that created the grading plan.

Student board advisor Meredith Gaskill, a senior in Rowan-Salisbury Schools, said even strong students report being distracted by family demands and poor internet access while trying to learn from home. And some are facing "conditions we can't even fathom" which prevent them from taking part in remote learning, she said.

Sneha Shah-Coltrane of the Department of Public Instruction said no grading policy can completely remedy the inequalities that have been highlighted by the dramatic changes forced by the coronavius. But she said the policy is designed to reduce harm and provide options.

The vote to approve the plan was 10-1, with James Ford of Charlotte opposing. Ford, a former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools teacher, said allowing some students to get grades benefits students with access to remote learning and further pushes the most disadvantged students behind.

Ford said he believes the grading system is flawed under normal circumstances and has been compromised by the switch to digital learning.

"What does it even mean to score an A or B in this atmosphere?" he asked.

Promotion Remains Local

Student promotion and retention "will remain the decision of the school principal and staff," the policy says, though the state recommends no student be retained unless that process was underway before March 13.

The introduction to the policy says many states are leaving grading decisions up to school districts, but North Carolina educators have asked for consistency. The policy is designed to avoid harming any student because of the abrupt shift to remote learning and to treat students "with grace and generosity," it says.

The board also approved policy adjustments related to teacher evaluations and athletic eligibility. 

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