GREAT FALLS — Great Falls Public Schools announced that it is adopting a "Pass/Fail" grading system for middle schools and high schools for the remainder of the academic year, and also making changes to K-6 grading.
The decision comes after several weeks of state-wide school closures due to COVID-19 restrictions, with students now engaged in distance learning rather than attending on-campus classes. Governor Steve Bullock ordered all public K-12 schools to close starting on March 16; the closure order remains in effect, and there is no word at this time whether schools will re-open before the end of the current school year.
Montana education leaders, including the Office of Public Instruction, recommended several days ago that public school districts extend distance learning through the end of the current school year, and not conduct large in-person graduation ceremonies. Bullock's stay-at-home order and school closures are currently scheduled to run through Friday, April 24th. However, he could again extend those order based on advice from public health experts.
MIDDLE SCHOOLS AND HIGH SCHOOLS
A letter signed by Heather Hoyer - the assistant superintendent for secondary schools - explains the circumstances and reasons for the "pass/fail" decision. Hoyer acknowledges in the letter that distance learning is "challenging and unique to our students, families, and teachers who support them," and that GFPS understands that distance learning can't recreate the experiences that students get from face-to-face instruction "delivered by talented and passionate educators."
She says that while students and schools have a shared responsibility in distance learning, "we believe that students should not be held accountable for their inability to get help, their lack of access to technology, or other circumstances outside of their control."
We contacted GFPS on Friday for more information about the decision, but they declined to comment, saying that they will provide more information on Monday.
The letter states:
"Beginning the second semester for high schools and third trimester for middle schools, all secondary students will receive a Pass (P) or Fail (F) grade, reflected on report cards and high school transcripts. PowerSchool will continue to show letter grades until final grades are placed on report cards. College level classes must follow the grading scales determined by the university responsible for the class, some are Pass/Fail, some are Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, and some are letter grades. These differences will be reflected on the collegiate transcript, not the high school transcript."
"A passing grade - "P" indicates that the distance learning expectations have been met and that students are proficient enough to move to the next level of learning. Credit is earned, but a "P" does not impact the grade point average/GPA (enhance or hinder). A failing grade - "F" indicates that the distance learning expectations have NOT been met and that students are NOT proficient enough to move on to the next level of learning. Credit is not earned; an "F" DOES negatively impact the GPA.
"Unless a student fails a course, there will be no change to a student's cumulative GPA. If a student fails a course needed to graduate, credit recovery opportunities will be made available, as is our past practice. Class rank, for the purposes of scholarships and awards, was not impacted by COVID-19, as it is always calculated at the end of seven semesters."
"After careful consideration, the Great Falls Public Schools has decided that this revision in our grading practices is the most appropriate course of action to support our students, families, and staff during these challenging times. Once again, we do not take this decision lightly, but rather sincerely believe that the uncharged territory we are now forced to navigate requires us to rethink grading expectations designed for more traditional models."
The letter concludes by saying seniors and families of seniors should soon receive additional guidance from their respective principals, and to contact your principal if you have questions.
The letter was posted on the GFPS Facebook page.
On the K- 6th-grade side, they are implementing a different grading system. They are now using a scale ranging from Good, Satisfactory, or Needs Improvement.
Ruth Uecker, the K-6 Assistant Superintendent, tells us they will be looking at the child's progress for the entire year, not just the last couple of months.
"It was a difficult decision for us to work through. First, it's important for people to understand that the Great Falls Public School staff from teachers to administrators have worked hard at providing a new and unique delivery model for instruction. This is certainly uncharted territory for our district and educator's our families have two options they can prescribe to our remote learning site, or they can use packets or a hybrid of both models. But as we have worked through these school closures overtime, we realize that we need to be more creative and the way that we are going to collect information about proficiency with our students, how we are going to share that proficiency through a reporting system to our families. So as this continues and is still going to continue to the future because it's a unique delivery model, it's a unique way to create and share proficiency with families".
"For us we are trying to keep the work that we are asking our families to do with their children at home to be really basic level instruction but yet continue to move our kids through the curriculum the best we can. For elementary we are really going to collect grades and share grades in three specific areas reading, writing, and mathematics all the other curriculum areas are equally important for the growth and development of a child instructionally but we also think with these challenging times we want to keep it simple and basic for families and teachers to collect grades from and work from and turn it in to a report card at the end of the school year". says Uecker
But do you feel like not getting that one on one interaction with there teachers is going to affect their education? "Oh certainly, technology is an incredible tool, and there is so much we can do. With having technology at our hands, but it doesn't replace direct instruction from a certified classroom teacher. I think if you reach out to parents, they will say the same. They are working full-time jobs often they are providing care for children in their homes. Another required to provide instruction with their kiddos. Our educators do some phenomenal things. They are professionals, and you just can't put a device in front of a child and give them work to do and expect learning to happen. There is instruction and a combination that needs to happen on an individual basis and that's what our teachers are so masterful at".
But this grading system is a way to track the whole process. "We have implemented this grading system for the 4th quarter for elementary. Our first two weeks of providing remote learning and packet and learning for families was kinda a trial and error and was getting ourselves familiar with the delivery model and then allowing families to work out the kink's as well. But starting on April 13th, we are transitioning to our new grading system for elementary K through 6th. That we will be giving or assigning kids a G, S or N, which is Good or Satisfactory or needs improvement in the areas of reading, math, and written language, those are the only three areas we will be collecting grades on at the end of the 4th quarter. The reason we choose this is that our families have been with the Great Falls Public Schools system throughout their childhood education with grades K through 2. This is a grading system we currently use. So we just transferred it 3-6th".
"It's not just based on what happened in the 4th quarter it's based on what we know about the students and the mastery of concepts from 1st quarter through 4th quarter and we are not going to hold families and children harmless based on something that happened in our world where we had to go to a remote learning model for 4th quarter we will take our kids in the Fall of the year and will assess them just like we do every year and we will adjust instruction on where are kids are at. Which may mean we start at different levels. We might start at different concepts than what we traditionally do for the beginning of the school year. But we will make that adjustment in the Fall of the year and move kids on. It is not our intent to hold kids to be harmless because of the hiccup in the 4th quarter due to the coronavirus. It's about what we know with that child with the first three quarters, and we know so much about all of our kids. This is just going to be a blip on the radar I hope moving forward".
"We know these are challenging times for all of us for our parents, our students for our educators I appreciate the grace that people have provided during these challenging times. We are figuring it out as we go. We are making adjustments. If parents have any questions at all, they should not hesitate to call their child's school, talk to the teacher, talk to the principle because we are there to continue to customize the work we are giving kids. So if they are struggling, let us know we will make adjustment".