The Seattle School Board on Monday adopted a policy giving all high-school students either A’s or incomplete grades for the spring 2020 semester to reflect the hardships of remote learning. The change was recommended by Seattle schools superintendent Denise Juneau.
Meanwhile, Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib called on the state’s colleges and universities to adopt “generous and consistent grading policies” to help students maintain their GPAs, meet financial-aid award requirements and make progress toward earning a degree at a time when many students’ academic lives have been severely disrupted by COVID-19.
All colleges, universities and K-12 schools in the state are teaching classes remotely this spring due to the coronavirus, and that move to online has raised questions about how to assign grades when everything about education has been upended.
The “A or incomplete” policy ensures that “no students are penalized because they might not have the same advantages at home that other students have,” said school board president Zachary DeWolf. An “A” would signify that the student had completed their work to the extent possible given their situation. An “incomplete” would mean the opposite. Students would have the opportunity to appeal and change the incomplete until the end of fall term 2020.
While other districts have moved to a simple pass/no pass policy, SPS officials said they worried not all colleges would be understanding. An “A,” for best effort, they argued, would be a safer option.
The policy was developed using the district’s Racial Equity Analysis Tool to avoid applying an inequitable approach to grading, the district said. A recent analysis found that the share of African American male students who had logged into the district’s online learning portal since the closures was 10 percentage points lower than the rest of the district.
But Eden Mack, one of two Board members who voted against the change, argued that the policy could still introduce implicit bias since teachers would have to make a judgment call about whether the student had what they needed to do the work. District officials said teachers would notify school administrators before making the call.
In a statement on college-level grading, Habib said the virus “presents an unprecedented challenge to our higher-education system – and grading policies should reflect that.”
Habib’s office has been focused on the University of Washington, which has done the least among the state’s six four-year schools to change its grading policies, said Kristina Brown, executive director of Habib’s office. (Higher education is one of two of Habib’s priority policy areas; the other is international trade.) On Monday, the UW revised its policy.
In a letter sent to the state’s public colleges and universities, Habib lauded two state universities — Western Washington University and Central Washington University — for having the most flexible grading policies.
Habib wants schools to adopt institution-wide “pass/no pass options without stigma,” or an equivalent policy, giving students the option to get a letter grade if they so choose. Students are “experiencing major disruptions in their academics,” Habib said in a letter, and giving them wider latitude will help.
College students can lose financial aid if they don’t maintain a certain GPA and make academic progress toward a degree, and the pass/no pass option is the most flexible choice, said Brown, who said Habib is concerned that students whose lives have already been upended will take an unfair academic hit at those institutions offering less grading flexibility.
“Students are not asking to be let go of their educational responsibilities here, they’re asking for a reasonable accommodation,” the Washington Student Association said in a statement. “Pass/fail is just another way we can help students ease their stress while many may be at home trying to help their families.” The association represents students at all of Washington’s public four-year institutions.
On Monday, the UW revised its policy. In a Q&A posted online, the university said it expected faculty to use numeric grades for most courses, but that professors could opt to use “credit/no credit,” a variation on the pass/no pass policy. Students may also opt for a satisfactory/not satisfactory grade as long as they make a decision by May 17. Either a “credit” or a “satisfactory” grade will be accepted into course prerequisites, entry into degree programs and graduation requirements.
Brown said the state’s 34 community and technical colleges have been able to give students more flexibility in grading options, so it hasn’t been an issue in those schools.