Thoughts on Grading During a Pandemic


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By Mike Lillis
President, Lakeland Federation of Teachers 

We all received guidance from Dr. Gagliardi yesterday for grading in the third
quarter/trimester. Both quarters/trimesters and grades have always been structural
milestones in education, one measuring time, the other performance. Both time and
performance have become fluid and untethered from our norms as we attempt to “flatten the curve” of this pandemic.

In education we have our part to play, it is not as traumatic or dramatic as our brothers and sisters working in the medical field, but we are still expected to be there, to provide some normalcy to our students, normalcy in a world completely devoid of normal.
It is to our brothers and sisters in medicine that I think we should be looking to guide us in our approach to grading. The same Hippocratic oath that guides them should guide us as well:  “Do no harm.” We all can see how that works in medicine during this crisis, but none of us have ever lived to see what it would mean in assigning grades to children.

What performance metrics apply when schools have been closed for weeks and may not open again this year? In addition to the isolation and fear of the pandemic, the lives of our children are complicated by loved ones becoming ill, parents becoming a part of the recently unemployed, and the overall turmoil of living with parents negotiating the stress inherent in watching the health system and economy strain to the breaking point.

In short, we simply have no idea what so many of our children are processing right now.
Now what does all of this have to do with grades? We simply cannot approach grading as we have in the past. We have been given a significant amount of latitude in grading the third quarter and we should be sure to use it so as to to do no harm to our students. Under the normal order, grades, tests, and assignments are controlled to challenge, but not to crush. We must recognize that this is not the normal order – we must give up some control. Just as the Regents have surrendered control in cancelling the 3-8 assessments and then went on to cancel the Regents exams yesterday, we are also expected to give up some control.

I simply cannot see how a student would fail to get a passing grade for the third
quarter/trimester. Additionally, I cannot see how a student will end up with a third
quarter/trimester grade that is significantly lower than their average during the first and
second quarters. The normal data stream has been interrupted and interrupted so
significantly we simply cannot say for sure whether a student would have or could have.

We can make assumptions that a student would not have done this assignment or made up that late work. We may have policies that speak to how late work is handled, but all such policies were made with an assumption that we would see students daily for the ten weeks of the quarter, that we would not be looking at depression era rates of unemployment, and that children would not need to see people put on masks and rubber gloves to leave the house. In short, the process of making grading decisions about students is as disrupted as every other aspect of our lives.

Here are my suggestions on how to proceed:
-Average the first and second quarter/trimester grades together to see approximately
where each student’s baseline is.
-Average the score earned from February 3rd to March 10th and see where the
student stands.
-Look at all subsequent work submitted online and see how it can help the student’s
-Missing work cannot be held against the student, whether before or after the March
10th decision to close.
-Under normal circumstances, the lowest third quarter grade is a 50, in this case I think
it is prudent to make it a 65; it would be a mistake to use this moment to put a student
at a numerical disadvantage to passing.
-With respect to report card comments, it might be best to adhere to the rule, if you
don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

This quarter represents about 1/50th of a student’s K-12 life. There will be and have been
times to teach students about the need to get assignments in on time, set high expectations, and commit to quality. This is a time to teach students about other aspects of our humanity. This is a time to demonstrate to students our compassion as we confront pain and flexibility and process the shifting sands of education in a pandemic.

On behalf of the entire Lakeland Federation of Teachers leadership team, I would like to thank you for all your efforts during these trying times.

Thoughts on Grading During a Pandemic

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