A new grading policy framework released by state schools superintendent Chris Reykdal Tuesday gives school districts broad latitude on how to assign grades to high-school students in the remaining eight weeks of the school year, at a time students are being taught remotely because of the COVID-19 health crisis.

The policy requires districts to use letter grades, but does not allow them to fail any student. A student’s grade as of March 17 will serve as a baseline, and every student will get a chance to improve that grade. Students who normally wouldn’t pass a class will get an incomplete.

“Our policy is, ‘do no harm,'” said Reykdal. “Students won’t move backward…every student will have a chance to make progress.”  The superintendent spoke to reporters for about 40 minutes Wednesday afternoon in a Zoom conference call that was also made available to school districts.

Earlier this week, the Seattle School District adopted an “A or incomplete” policy — all high-school students will receive either an A or will get an incomplete, giving them the chance to make up a class they otherwise would have failed. It’s been criticized by some parents and teachers alike. Reykdal deflected a question about whether that system was fair, saying only that parents should ask Seattle officials about the choice. “Seattle has to grapple with that, and you should direct questions to Seattle,” he said. “We did not pick it as a state choice.”

All high-school students will get a mark on their transcripts indicating this semester’s grades were affected by the COVID-19 health crisis, but Reykdal said he did not think the grading decision would hurt college-bound students  because every school district in the country is in the same boat. And seniors have already built a long transcript that gives college admissions offices a sense of their capabilities, he said.

Last year, during spring 2019, about 39% of students were receiving A’s in high school. Reykdal said his office would be watching how this semester’s grades matched that distribution.

Reykdal said he expects summer school will be taught online. As for restarting school in the fall, that will be Gov. Jay Inslee’s call, but “the science will mostly dictate” that decision, he said. His office is watching how school reopenings are being planned in countries that are recovering from the virus, including China and South Korea. The plan for reopening each school may have to account for how well students can be physically distanced from one another depending on the layout of a building, he said.

As part of the federal stimulus relief package, Washington schools will receive $200 million, Reykdal said. About 90% of the money will go to districts based on a formula, and they will have “significant discretion” as to what to do with the money, he said. Many districts have had to pay unexpected costs as a result of the health crisis, including buying computers for students and providing child care for first responders.