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Utah schools talk about changes coming in the fall, including pass/fail or incomplete grades

Posted at 5:46 PM, May 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 20:22:38-04

UTAH — The State Board of Education is preparing data showing which counties are struggling the most with online schooling.

They’ll present this information next week to the State in hopes to identify ways the pandemic has impacted Utah students, but also to recognize places education needs to change.

Patty Norman, on the Board of Education, said elementary students seem to be doing the best with online schooling and high schoolers seem to be doing well too.

It’s junior high students they’re worried about, as well as those who were already struggling in the traditional classroom.

“We’ll have more students who were not traditionally at risk, but their parent got laid off or they don’t have access to the internet,” said Norman.

The highest risk areas for educational impact include: San Juan County, Utah County and Salt Lake County.

Norman said they will receive $67 million from the CARES Act.

Ninety percent of that money will go to each district throughout the state, determined by their needs.

The feedback that districts are getting from teachers could be considered a “mixed bag.”

Some districts measure the student’s progress through participation in online learning, others through picking up packets from their teachers or virtual conversations.

The Alpine School District has more than 81,000 students.

Spokeswoman Kimberly Bird said 74 to 80 percent of their students are passing online classes.

“Anytime we have students in the 20 to 25 percent that is failing, that’s significant to us,” said Bird. “That matters to us and we’re going to do all we can to help them.”

The Granite School District has 64,000 students enrolled.

Out of those that are in high school, 42 percent are failing at least two of their eight classes as of Friday.

Though Friday was the last day for assignments to be given out, students still have two weeks before their final grade is put in — time to bring that percentage down.

According to spokesman Ben Horsley, Granite District has a larger socioeconomic margin than other districts.

Many high school students have had to start working because their parents were laid off, leaving them no time for online learning.

For other students, English is not their first language.

Horsley said it’s been hard for those students to communicate virtually, and when their parents don’t speak fluently, it makes it hard for the students to have their work checked by a parent.

“If we were to grade right now, the grade would be based off of privilege of what they have and are able to do,” said Norman.

The State is asking each district to “go easy” on students for their grades during the pandemic.

“We’re really asking not to fail students at this time,” said Norman.

Most districts have implemented a system that only applies to the last few months, during the pandemic.

Students will still receive their letter grades, but if they receive a “C” or lower, they can choose to replace the C or lower grade with a “pass.”

“A pass doesn’t help us say, 'Yes, they got the material,'” said Bird. “We want to make sure that we find out where those learning gaps occurred. How do we intervene to catch up to those spots and then move forward?”

Some districts are requiring those who received an “F” grade to have an “incomplete,” giving students until next fall to turn in makeup work for a better grade.

“Not everything has been tragic about how education has looked,” Norman said.

Some kids who were afraid to speak up in the classroom before are now actively engaged, Norman said.

Using online chats with the students has allowed some to find their voice.

These are changes, Norman said, that need to be brought back when school eventually reconvenes inside a traditional classroom.

Going back to school in the fall will look different because of social distancing measures and extra cleaning.

Bird said they are contemplating ways to eliminate crowds — even considering a curbside pick-up option for parents coming to get their kids.

The State is even considering alternating school start and end times daily and yearly, as well as staggering schedules.

Yet the care for students will remain the same.

“This is a unique situation, unlike we’ve ever experienced before, and we wanted to side on the side of compassion,” said Bird.