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No Zero Grades, More Time To Finish Work: CMS Standards Address Pandemic Setbacks

Smith Center workspace.jpg
Ann Doss Helms
The Steve Smith Family Foundation's virtual learning center provides socially-distanced space for K-5 students to do remote lessons.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is launching new strategies to counteract rising absences and falling grades caused by the pandemic.

Like districts across the country, CMS has seen absences and failing grades surge during the pandemic, most sharply at several schools that serve low-income students of color. This week, principals got “talking points” on new strategies to help students catch up as they begin returning to in-person classes.

Deputy Superintendent Matt Hayes says one of the strategies is a “no zeroes” mandate, retroactive to the start of second semester in January. The lowest grade that can be given is 50, even when work isn’t turned in. He says that’s been recommended and practiced in many schools already, but now it’s required districtwide.

"What that 50 does is it says to an individual student, 'You still have hope. You still have an opportunity to get that grade back where it needs to be,' " he said Friday.

Hayes says absences and missing work often contribute to a growing number of D's and F's during remote learning. The pandemic has disrupted student and family lives, with illnesses, job loss and unstable housing making it difficult for some students to complete work on time.

"We do not know all the things that are impacting them through this pandemic. We’ve got to give them that opportunity," he said.

Hayes says CMS is also requiring a five-day grace period for turning in late work without penalty. And students who retake a test that they failed can now get a maximum score of 80 — a low B — instead of 79, a C.

The goal isn't to artificially inflate grades, he said, but to help students get back on track. In-person classes resume next week for elementary and K-8 schools. On Feb. 22, middle and high schools will bring back in-person classes for the first time since March 2020.

Hayes says these regulations came down quickly to make sure everyone is using the same practices this semester. During the spring, he says officials will work with principals and teachers to create long-term, uniform grading regulations.

And, he says, central office staff will help schools identify and support students who have fallen behind.

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