Engagement and Grading Guidelines during COVID-19 School Closure

Updated May 20, 2020 

Elementary and Middle School Grading and Reporting

For our elementary and middle school learners, we will continue to follow the state guidance to “do no harm” with remote learning and grading this spring. Between now and the end of the school year, we want students to stay engaged in learning and connect with their teachers as much as possible. All students in elementary and middle school will be promoted to the next grade in the fall. When school reopens in fall 2020, it will be our job to take care of your children and meet their educational needs where they are.  

Elementary students’ report cards will note the closure and their promotion to the next year’s grade. A letter from their principal with more context and explanation will be mailed home to families.  

Middle school students will receive a report card with P (Pass/Promote) marks for all standards, except for math classes that earn high school credit like Algebra. These classes will follow our A/I high school grading system (see below). 

High School Grading and Reporting

Bellingham Public Schools has decided to temporarily suspend the traditional grade-marking of A-F and use the grade marks “A” or “Incomplete” for courses earning high school credit.   

We made this decision based on a number of factors, including the mission and vision of The Bellingham Promise; feedback from our students, families and staff; and guidance from the state, including the call from the state superintendent to “do no harm” and use compassion and common sense. 

This grading guidance applies to second semester grades of the 2019-20 school year. Our intent is to support all students to the greatest extent possible during this time. This change applies to all high school credit-bearing courses, and includes students receiving specialized services. 

  • Students are expected, to the extent possible, to remain engaged in learning activities assigned by their teachers; at the end of the semester they will receive an “A” for their semester grade. 
  • Teachers will assign activities and lessons that are aligned to the adjusted academic standards and learning outcomes that are identified for each course/subject area. 
  • Teachers will provide feedback to students on their learning to promote student progress, growth, and engagement.  
  • An “A” signifies that a student has engaged to the extent possible in activities and/or learning.
  • An “Incomplete” will be used only in rare circumstances.

Every high school course taken during the school closure period will be given a statewide designator on the high school transcript to denote the unique environment in which the course was taken. 

We believe:  

  • Remote learning should not have an adverse impact on student grades.  
  • Students may experience positive learning gains during this time in ways that may not happen in the traditional school setting.  
  • The most loving and equitable thing we can do for every student during this remote learning and school closure time is to record a grade of “A.”
  • Simplicity is best during this time – simplicity of academic standards and learning outcomes, simplicity of communication structures, simplicity of expectations. That said, there are numerous details to attend to as we strive for simplicity. Below is our guidance pertaining to different aspects of our remote learning, engagement, and grading guidelines.   
  • We value the connectedness and care for our students and one another as we strive to maintain continuity of learning.   

Please read further for details, definitions and rationale. 

 

State Guidance

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has asked school districts across the state to determine how to provide opportunities for their high school students to earn credits and provide meaningful academic feedback to students and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, our school community is in a crisis unlike any we have faced before and we are following the state guidance of prioritizing keeping children emotionally and physically safe, fed and engaged in learning.   

The State Superintendent has wrestled with these same priorities and concerns while attempting to find solutions. These conversations have resulted in the most recent OSPI Student Learning and Grading Guidance published April 21, 2020. In that document, OSPI provides six key points for schools to follow as they created individual solutions and guidelines for grading:  

  1. Do no harm!  
  2. Every student will get an opportunity to improve their grade with their March 17 status as a baseline.  
  3. No student will receive a “pass,” “fail,” or “no credit” grade for any course.  
  4. Teachers will assign grades or assign an “incomplete” for students who cannot engage in an equitable way.  
  5. Every class taken during the closure period will be given a statewide designator on the high school transcript to denote the unique environment in which the course was taken 
  6. Students assigned an “incomplete” for a course will be given opportunities to reengage in the learning standards based on local school district decisions in consultation with the student/parents/guardians, including but not limited to: 
    • Summer school,  
    • Courses in the following term or year,  
    • Independent study,  
    • Competency-based courses,  
    • Online courses,  
    • Backfilling the incomplete grade with the letter grade obtained in the next course taken in that subject area.

In his most recent video reviewing this guidance to the state, Superintendent Reykdal directly addressed Washington students. He reiterated to them that “[Education] is about learning. It isn’t the “A” or the “B” or the “C” that makes you an amazing person as you take your next step…It’s all of those things that made you who you are through your learning and your ability to reflect that learning and your success.” He followed this with a message to parents reassuring them that “we want to simplify [what comes home to you] and focus on some narrow standards that demonstrate your students’ ability to have success next year.” We have tried to take these perspectives and many others into consideration in developing our own policy for grading moving forward.

Rationale for Grading Decision

We know families, students and staff are juggling changes to their routine, multiple responsibilities and numerous challenges brought on by this pandemic. In this context, we must adjust. Our current context includes so many unique and unprecedented variables, we cannot do business as usual.  

Students Variables  Variables of Both Students & Teachers  Teacher Variables 
  • Access to internet 
  • Access to language supports 
  • Access to food/nutrition 
  • Access to medication, therapy, mental health supports  
  • Limited access to the relationship piece that school staff provides for success 
  • Safety net missing 
  • Online cyberbullying; social media stress 
  • Non-traditional approach to learning is new  
  • Impacted executive functioning skills 
  • Family support, home responsibilities, home setting, lack of routine 
  • Fears related to safety, food insecurity, housing, domestic violence, job loss
  • Crisis level  
  • Stress, anxiety, isolation, possibly leading to depression  
  • Death of family members or known people  
  • Technology skills and comfort level 
  • Impact of parenting or other household responsibilities while working 
  • Developing skillset to teach in non-traditional environment  
  • Unprecedented teaching context; never taught in pandemic before 

 

Some of the articles we leaned on as we made the determination regarding grading during the extended school closure due to COVID-19 are listed here for your reference. Joe Feldman is referenced in several of the links below; his book Grading for Equity has been the text we’ve based much of the High School Grading Practices Task Force work upon this past school year.

 

Dr. Manuel Rustin Article: COVID-19 Diaries: Give Them All A's

 

Kurt Hatch, Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP)

 

Feldman Article in Educational Leadership  

 

Crescendo Group’s Guidance (Joe Feldman is associated with the Crescendo Group)

From: Joe Feldman
Subject: Recommendations for Grading Students During COVID-19

In the interests of protecting the health and safety of our communities from COVID-19, schools are closing their doors, some until the end of this school year. Among other issues, this brings up the question of grading. Because the grades students receive are used for many high-stakes decisions—course placement, graduation, scholarships, college admission, and more—policymakers and school / district leaders are looking for expert guidance on whether, and how, to grade students during this very unique time.

The grading recommendations here are grounded in research on effective evaluation, culturally responsive teaching and learning, and Crescendo Education Group’s work since 2013 in multiple geographic and socioeconomic contexts. They also incorporate feedback from teachers as well school and district leaders.

We hope these recommendations are helpful to school and district leaders as they continue to be responsive to changing circumstances, consistently committed to equity, and always prioritizing their students' needs--mental, physical, and educational.

Mind Shift Article/Opinion Piece: Why Grading Policies for Equity Matter More Than Ever

We also adhered to, of course, OSPI’s state guidance and followed what was happening in San Francisco, Washington state school districts, and across the country.  We listened to our local staff, students and families who gave input in a various ways throughout the process and continue to share what is working and not working for them during this time.

Attendance

Weekly attendance will be taken for all students. Teachers will mark students present (designated by “contact” or “no contact”) for any form of contact that took place that week. This will be recorded in the attendance portion of Skyward. Contact can include, but is not limited to, turning in an assignment, emailing a teacher about an assignment, taking part in a virtual class, responding to an email or phone call from their teacher or staff member, family communication with school staff or teachers, participation in online dialogue and discussion, or other methods as agreed upon by school staff.

The prioritized purposes of our attendance procedures during this time of remote learning and school closure are to ensure safety, to identify where outreach is needed, and to monitor student connection with teachers.

Teachers and other school staff will use attendance data to identify students who have disconnected from academic work and strategically reach out to ensure that all students receive the support needed to be safe, fed, well, and engage academically during the school closure.

Note: Engagement is related to, but different, than attendance. Engagement in learning is described in the Teaching and Learning section below.

These procedures are aligned to OSPI’s guidance related to attendance:

From Continuous Learning Guidance, OSPI, 2020:  Districts should establish a district or school-based system of daily or weekly attendance gathering as plans for continuity of learning are established.

From Student Learning and Grading, OSPI, 2020:  Attendance will not be a factor when determining student grades (RCW 28A.600.030). Districts will be expected to take attendance consistent with their continuous learning plan; however, attendance will not be a factor when determining student grades or as a condition of receiving apportionment.

Parent Engagement and Communication

Families’ priorities during remote learning is the safety, health and well-being of their loved ones.  Schools and families should partner to keep children emotionally and physically safe, fed and engaged in learning. It is imperative that students and schools/families maintain a personal connection that supports necessary academic work in a manner that is respectful of students’ contexts (their mindset, feelings, responsibilities, circumstance, etc.) 

It is not the intention of remote learning for parents to become the sole provider of educational content. Working together with strong partnership, we will strive to keep students engaged and progressing during this school closure. We will communicate with families in a variety of ways, including phone calls, emails, video updates, Seesaw/social media posts and other methods as agreed upon by school staff and families.   

Teaching and Learning

All students are encouraged to do their best and demonstrate their growth and learning by completing weekly activities assigned by their teachers. These activities and assignments will be directly connected to key learning outcomes for each grade level and/or class. Our intention with our approach to teaching and learning is that students and families can worry less about grades and more about the joys of learning.   

We expect students to stay engaged with their classes and teachers to the extent they can in order to: 

  • Prepare for next year’s courses, especially in sequential courses 
  • Pursue areas of passion and interest,  
  • Continue to develop an appreciation of learning for learning’s sake. 

Learning outcomes: 

For each grade level and/or class, teachers and other staff will establish a focused and intentional list of key learning outcomes. These key outcomes will reflect priorities of that grade level or course and may also incorporate learning targets that relate to the seventeen outcomes of The Bellingham Promise.  

Teachers have worked collaboratively to develop the key learning targets and will design their lessons and activities to support these learnings.    

Equitable access:  

Knowing that access is a concern in this time of remote learning, we will work to expand when and how our students access curriculum and instruction.  Asynchronous opportunities increase student ability to learn if /when they have enough quiet timeWiFi, and bandwidth. Teachers will not require students to take assessments at a specific time and/or online.  At any given moment students do not all have the same technology access, including number of computers and sufficient bandwidth/internet speed.  

Furthermore, we cannot assume that if a student has access to technology that they have access to learning.  Access to technology does not mean the same as access to WiFi, access to executive functioning skills during a crisis, schedules that allow flexibility, settings that are conducive to learning, or access to understanding learning in this remote way.  And perhaps most importantly, students do not have access, in our traditional way, to their teachers.   

Teacher and Student Responsibilities related to Engagement and Feedback:  

Teacher Role  Shared Role   Student Role  
  • Provide learning activities to engage students in established key learning standards and outcomes 
  • Be flexible and understanding related to the closures impact on capacity and social-emotional needs 
  • Engage in learning activities, lessons and assessments 
  • Provide multiple pathways to engage learners 
  • Create and utilize structures and routine 
  • Add feedback and discussion to topics and issues related to learning outcomes
  • Set methods for communicating with students and families
  • Reach out with questions or concerns
  • Communicate regularly with teachers
  • Provide meaningful and relevant feedback to enhance student learning 
  • Give one another grace during this time of teaching and learning during a pandemic
  • Complete assignments and activities in a timely fashion, to the extent possible 

 

Grading

We expect our teachers to continue to plan lessons and provide feedback on work during the closure. Grading is a blanket term that includes providing meaningful feedback, assessment for learning, assessment of learning (self-assessment), student/teacher participation in learning, dialogue and discussion (in this case primarily online), and self-reflection. Teacher feedback on student work should focus on student growth and be a natural part of the learning process.   

We value learning without points attached and recognize that letter grades are not required to motivate students to learn.  In fact, research supports that more learning happens when no grades are attached.   

  • Teachers will assign learning activities and assignments aligned to the identified academic standards and learning outcomes for this time of remote learning.    
  • An A signifies that a student has engaged to the extent possible in activities and learning

We are defining engagement during the closure as a students involvement and participation in the lessons and learning activities.  It does not reflect a level of mastery of standards, content or skills.   

Engagement includes, but is not limited to, any of the following:  

  • Turning in assignments. 
  • Revising and/or improving assignments based on teacher feedback. 
  • Connecting with teachers by email, phone, Teams, video conference, etc.   
  • Emailing a teacher about an assignment.
  • Taking part in a virtual class meeting or study session. 
  • Posting in an online dialogue, discussion or activity. 

Teachers will continue to provide meaningful learning opportunities and offer feedback to students for the purposes of supporting progress in learning and reflection. Effective feedback can provide an important contribution to a healthy social-emotional state and foster learning.   

  • Feedback should be informative and tailored to the assignments given. 
  • Teachers should give personalized feedback on content materials. 
  • Providing rubrics or other means to show students how the desired outcomes of an assignment is encouraged and helpful in student’s agency of learning. 
  • Feedback should be consistent, ongoing, incremental, and formative. 
  • Feedback should give students meaningful information to move their learning and engagement forward; it should be useful.   
  • Students need to know they have multiple opportunities to utilize feedback to try again or to gain deeper understanding. 

Transcripts: Every high school course taken during the school closure period will be given a statewide designator on the high school transcript to denote the unique environment in which the course was taken. Teachers will assign letter grade of A, or in rare circumstances an “Incomplete” at the end of the semester. A letter grade of “F” is not an option and will not be assigned 

Withdrawing from a classWe expect students to finish all courses they are currently enrolled in.  Based on extenuating circumstances, studentsfamilies and counselors may initiate a request to be withdrawn from a course that is not required for graduation through an appeal process to the principal. The steps to this process include:  

  1. Student and counselor consult about considerations for withdrawing from a course.  
  2. If still interested, the student and parent initiate a request to be withdrawn from a course to their school counselor. 
  3. The school counselor, after verifying impacts on graduation or future graduation, considers request.   
  4. If the withdraw from the course will not impact graduation status the request is forwarded to an appeal process to the principal.   
Incompletes

Incompletes are for rare circumstances and will be used sparingly. They may be issued to students whom the school has not been successful in engaging through multiple avenues.    

Before assigning an "Incomplete," educators should have evidence of their efforts to engage the student in multiple ways, over time. All incompletes issued will be made as team decisions by the teacher, the counselor and the principal following a multi-step process that includes communication with families over time 

Details and procedures have been developed for educators and families of students who may be at risk for receiving an “Incomplete.”    

Social and Emotional Well-Being

During this time of school closure due to COVID-19 pandemic, the health and mental well-being of students should be a priority over learning. 

School staff should make every effort to contact all families and students on a regular basis and open-up all lines of communication for families and students to contact them.   

In alignment with The Bellingham Promise, we must strive to, as a community, support the whole child – including their mental health, nutritional needs, safety needs and engagement and learning needs. It is important to recognize the underlying right now for resilience, critical and creative thinking, thoughtful responsiveness, and empathy in order to ensure students continue to grow personally and academically during this time of school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.   

It is imperative during this time to attend to the social and emotional needs of students. Efforts to ensure all school community members feel connected and informed may include:  

  • Ongoing communication among all stakeholders. 
  • Opportunities for positive feedback/connection between students and teachers. 
  • Acknowledge students’ current situation and context.
  • Provide students with appropriate supports to process events. 
  • Utilize trauma-informed practices where possible. 
  • Utilize school and community resources to provide mental health supports.  

Strategies for supporting students’ social and emotional well-being include:  

  • Providing time guidelines and schedule suggestions for student engagement in learning activities, while remaining sensitive to the fact that typical learning has been disrupted for all. 
  • Monitoring and supporting student participation. 
  • Prompting discussions, encouraging collaboration, and providing feedback. 
  • Considering ways to focus on relationships and connections with students via various means. 
  • Accommodations and modifications can and should be provided when appropriate for students and their mental health. 

Other considerations helpful to student well-being: 

Special classes, including dual-credit, TSE and BVL

Dual-Credit, College in the High School, and Traffic Safety  

We are in the process of working with collaboratively to determine the necessary course of action for students currently enrolled in these classes.  These courses are connected to external agencies and have college credit or licensing attached, therefore the guidance for them may be nuanced.   

Bellingham Virtual Learning (BVL) 

We are in the process of determining guidance for students taking Bellingham Virtual Academy (BVL) online courses through Spokane Virtual Academy.   

Use of Skyward 

We are in the process of determining the most useful way to use Skyward for communicating progress with students and families.