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CPS changes to Pass/No Credit grading system

Columbia Public Schools (CPS) alerted students and families details of the overarching grading plan for the rest of the semester today, April 6, in an email from CPS Communications Director Michelle Baumstark. 

In short, teachers won’t submit final letter grades and instead will transition to a Pass (P) or No Credit (NC) system where students must achieve at least a 60% to receive credit and pass. 

Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Dr. Jennifer Rukstad sent an email to teachers and faculty three days prior detailing the new grading course of action.

In short, teachers won’t submit final letter grades and instead will transition to a Pass (P) or No Credit (NC) system where students must achieve at least a 60% to receive credit and pass.

Dr. Rukstad said in an email that “determinations for P or NC will be made based on content presented and assessed on or before the Interim Progress Report (IPR) reported March 10.” Dr. Rukstad said in the email that if school returns to session this semester, the changes will remain in place. 

RBHS Principal Jacob Sirna said in a follow-up email to teachers and faculty that if a student’s grade has changed significantly since the March 10 IPR Report, teachers should “err on the side benefitting the student.” If students are currently not passing a class, nor were they on the IPR report, “the student has the remainder of the semester to reach a status of passing,” Dr. Rukstad said in her email. 

“The plan will be jarring and even shocking to some,” Dr. Rukstad said in the email to faculty and staff. “It will not fit with most of the assumptions and thought patterns any of us have about school, but it is the right thing to do for our staff, our students and our families.”

The plan will be jarring and even shocking to some. It will not fit with most of the assumptions and thought patterns any of us have about school, but it is the right thing to do for our staff, our students and our families.”

Dr.

Dr. Rukstad said a wide range of online learning issues pushed the school district to this eventual conclusion. In her email, she listed several different classroom cases, such as a lack of Internet access, children “with limited to no at-home support,” families dealing with illness, homes with food insecurity and various other uncontrollable circumstances. 

“We heard examples of 100% or near 100% engagement for individual class sections in those first couple of days. We also had examples of next to no engagement, and everything in between,” Dr. Rukstad said in the email to faculty and staff. “We also began to hear stories that gave us a glimpse of the variety of experiences our staff, students and families were having.”

With the changes in grading, Dr. Rukstad said teacher’s priority and expectations have morphed, as well. She said if a student doesn’t engage with the class after passing, “there is no punitive action,” but teachers should work to maintain connections with students who remain active. Specifically, she said in her email teachers should “continue to hold office hours daily (no fewer than one hour and no more than two hours).” 

Additionally, CPS will follow a weekly schedule where classes and extracurriculars can hold communication through Zoom meetings, Google Hangouts, etc. Dr. Rukstad also said in the email “if there is no evidence of class engagement (i.e. students don’t attend the class and there are no emails coming in from students), teachers will not be expected to continue to hold the class.”

In his followup email to RBHS faculty hours after Dr. Rukstad sent hers, Sirna said the priorities for teachers should be “review, reinforce and enrichment” instead of continuing with curriculum because “it will likely have the effect of exacerbating the [learning] gap that we are trying to minimize.” 

He said the only exceptions would be Advanced Placement (AP) and Dual Credit courses because they prepare students for external measures. Dr. Rukstad also said in her email students won’t be at a disadvantage from lost content because the 2020-21 curriculum will work around this year’s circumstances. Overall, Dr. Rukstad said she is encouraged by the teachers’ response to the coronavirus pandemic and said these new changes are only because of unmanageable situations. 

“One need only scroll through Twitter to see such incredible commitments by our staff to use social media to connect, entertain, inspire and encourage,” Dr. Rukstad said in her email to faculty. “It is humbling and moving to see you, [teachers], work.”

When school officially moved online March 30, AP Statistics and Precalculus teacher Kevin Taylor used Schoology and Google Drive to continue teaching his classes. He said he had a “positive experience” using the discussion board feature of Schoology and hopes the changes don’t deter students from continuing to engage. He said, at the moment, it’s hard for him to say whether the measure will hurt or benefit students.  

CPS Middle/High School Weekly Schedule
Monday: Math, Fine Arts, and English Learners

Tuesday: Language Arts, PE/Health, Gifted Education and AVID

Wednesday: Science, Practical Arts, Career Center, and Special Education District Classrooms

Thursday: Social Studies, World Languages, and Special Education Non-Core Content Areas (Skills for Success, AC Lab, Resource, Work Block, Work Exploration as they apply for your student)

Friday: Fun Day, Club Day (A time when clubs, athletics, and activities can check-in)

“I know many students who worked very hard for a good GPA this semester will be frustrated that someone who barely passes will get the same grade. For them this seems very unfair,” Taylor said. “But, on the flip side, someone who was determined to raise their grade but for whatever reason are not able to do so in an online learning environment, this approach to grading ensures that the school closure does not penalize them.”

If there is no evidence of class engagement (i.e. students don’t attend the class and there are no emails coming in from students), teachers will not be expected to continue to hold the class.”

Dr. Jennifer Rukstad, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education

Taylor said he is working on adjusting his curriculum for Precalculus; however, he doesn’t plan to change anything for AP Statistics because his goal is still to prepare students for the ultimate AP test in May.  

“CPS AP math teachers have agreed to cover all content that would have been covered if school had not been closed,” Taylor said. 

Sophomore Jessica Shroeder said she appreciates her teachers’ efforts to continue to teach through these circumstances. Shroeder said she heard rumors of the plan before it was released to students and harbors mixed feelings about the grading system as it decreases her motivation to do work. Still, she said she plans on continuing to engage in course work in order to “maintain some semblance of normalcy.”

“I think it’s difficult to say whether it’s fair because it makes some classes remarkably easy when they were meant to challenge a student’s learning,” Shroeder said. “As a student, I like that my grades won’t reflect my time of learning at home because I don’t have a teacher to help me through everything, but I also wish it didn’t make my difficult classes remarkably easy. The [Pass/No Credit] system CPS is going to use doesn’t accurately reflect a student’s work, which I don’t think is fair to the student.”

 

Read about CPS online learning:

 

First day of online learning sparks discussions of academic equality

In accordance with Boone County Health Department’s social distancing guidelines, Columbia Public School (CPS) students began their first day of online learning using virtual study and communication methods March 30. Originally, CPS closed its schools March 18 with the plan of resuming session April 13. After the city of Columbia issued a stay-at-home order from March 24 until April 24, however, CPS extended its recess until April 27. CPS Community Relations Director Michelle Baumstark said the district still plans to reopen April 27, despite President Donald Trump’s March 29 announcement that social distancing guidelines should remain until at least April 30.

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While grading is now Pass/No Credit, some students must continue to do work to prepare for upcoming AP assessments, which will be online this year, or complete their Dual Credit coursework. Senior Connor Kyle said this applies to him as his dual credit classes College Algebra, Entrepreneurship and Ads and Promotions will still count for a grade because it impacts whether or not he receives college credit. 

Kyle said, however, he likes this new change because he is a senior and doesn’t want to worry about grades. Senior Tien Truong also said she thought the change was fair, especially considering many colleges moved to the pass/fail grading system

“I think everyone was affected mentally by this shocking event. Personally, I know some people that have family members that have the virus and are fighting through it,” Truong said. “I think going through this is already nerve-racking enough, dealing with school as well is even tougher since it’s online, and no one really has the motivation to do it.

Dr. Rukstad said student, teacher and administrator safety is the most important issue at this time. While she said there will be some students who decide to stop working, there will be some who still seek to continue their education without the reward of a specific grade.

“We are absolutely serious when we say that the first priority for our staff, students and families is health and well-being, especially in this time of great uncertainty,” Dr. Rukstad said in her email. “We are so committed to that priority, that you, [teachers], will be seeing a plan moving forward that purposefully limits what we ask you, [teachers], to do in your job functions so that we can allow time for you, [teachers], to attend to you and your family’s well-being, as well as allow that time for our students and their families.”

Do you think CPS made the right choice? Let us know in the comments below.

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