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RSU 9 approves grading plan, adjusts graduation requirements

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FARMINGTON – Regional School Unit 9 school board directors approved alterations to the district’s grading policy and graduation requirements at Tuesday’s meeting, opting not to grade assignments after the implementation of remote learning on March 13.

Districts across the country have been grappling with how to measure student progress in new remote learning environments. In rural parts of the country, districts are further dealing with how to reach students who may not have reliable access to the internet. RSU 9 has configured laptops issued to students to access the internet in school parking lots; other entities, such as local libraries and the University of Maine at Farmington are providing similar opportunities for internet access. However, administrators noted Tuesday evening, in many cases the same students that don’t have access to home internet also don’t have access to a car. In other cases, students may not have a safe learning environment or may have additional at-home responsibilities, such as providing childcare for siblings.

The changes recommended by administrators and teachers that worked on the plan included tracking assignments issued after March 13 through PowerSchool but not grading them. For grades 6 through 12, students will be able to complete missing or failing work due prior to March 13 until May 1. Passing a class will consist of students earning a grade of 60 or higher; for Semester 2 courses, the grade will be a pass/fail based off Quarter 3 work. For year-long courses in which a student is failing in Semester 1, students will be invited to make a plan with their teachers to reach a passing grade.

For grades 6 through 12, report cards and transcripts will reflect the typical Semester 1 grade based off the average of Quarter 1 and 2. The Quarter 3 grade will be based off of student work up through March 13, plus any make up or revised work submitted prior to May 1. For Quarter 4 and Semester 2, transcripts will have no score but will include a note indicating that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, no grades were recorded.

Eighty percent of the year-long score will be based off Semester 1, with the remaining 20 percent based off student work in the abbreviated Quarter 3. Honors and awards will be based of the Semester 1 score, including cumulative Grade Point Average and senior awards. The year-long score will be calculated, as indicated above, but will not be used as the basis for honors or awards.

Seniors will be provided with opportunities to pass and receive credit for their classes, administrators said. The changes approved Tuesday evening include reducing the district’s graduation requirements down to the state minimum: 4 years of English, 2 years of social studies, two years of mathematics, two years of science and one year of fine arts. That reduction – 1.5 years of social studies, half a year of health, a year of mathematics, a year of science and 1.5 years of physical education – would allow seniors to focus on their core subjects and graduate, administrators said. The change in graduation requirements also includes lowering the number of credits required from 24 down to 20.

For pre-K through grade 5, Quarter 3 progress reports will be based off student work through March 13. For pre-K through grade 3, progress reports will be emailed to parents, or mailed in some cases. For grades 4 and 5, progress reports will be distributed through PowerSchool. For Quarter 4, a personal note will be submitted instead of a report card.

Curriculum Director Laura Columbia outlined other options discussed by planners, including grading student work normally through the remote learning period, so-called “grading without penalty,” which refers to allowing students to improve their grades but not make them worse, or assigning pass/fail grades to remote learning work. All of those options ran into the same issue, Columbia said, in that some students did not have reliable internet, a safe learning environment or the same amount of free time as their peers.

Superintendent Tina Meserve noted that the changes were in line with the recommendations of the Maine Department of Education, particularly in that students should not be failing classes because of the coronavirus.

Directors were generally supportive of the plan. Director Kirk Doyle of Farmington and Director Betsey Hyde of Temple, while both saying they appreciated the work that had gone into the plan, raised concerns with the impact of no graded work on some students. Doyle suggested providing some means for students to positively impact their grades during the remote learning period, while Hyde worried about keeping highly motivated learners learning if there was no real incentive to do so.

Other directors pointed to the fairness issue raised by Columbia and other administrators, in that some students who wanted to positively impact their grades through the remote learning process simply wouldn’t be able to access the same resources.

The board briefly considered meeting on the issue Thursday, to provide more time to consider the proposal, but that motion was defeated after most directors voted in favor of making a decision Tuesday evening. The vote on accepting the modifications to the grading and graduation requirement policies was 14 to 2, with Doyle and Hyde opposed.

Columbia also said that staff were keeping track of students that had not been making regular connections with teachers, particularly ones that had not been keeping pace academically with their peers. The 2,400-student district was tracking roughly 50 to 75 elementary students and 100 high school students that were disconnected from their teachers as of a couple weeks ago, Columbia said, but noted that data would be updated as students contacted teachers over the past several days. Teams consisting of principals, teachers, social workers and counselors would review students considered in need or urgent intervention, with a priority on safety and well-being.

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