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APS adjusts distance learning grading platform

Austin Public Schools knew almost immediately that a sudden shift to distance learning because of COVID-19 would require a change in grading procedures.

On Monday, during the APS monthly school board meeting, John Alberts, executive director of educational services, laid out the game  plan for that change in grading in an effort to keep the process fair across the spectrum for its students.

The new grading platform lays out grading practices for students preschool to high school.

“We knew right away there was going to be change and adjusted,” Albert said Thursday afternoon. “All the educators statewide had that concern. Things had just changed so dramatically.”

“The speed made it so we had to be fair to our students in many ways,” he added.

Once implemented, staff and administration knew pretty quickly that a change would need to come, but it had to be balanced to cope with the different ways in which some students were receiving their distance learning.

This included the varying home life of students and the access they had to things like basic internet.

“We didn’t want students to unnecessarily suffer or be ill affected by the really quick change in delivery,” Alberts said. “In this case, by having them have to do all their learning from their house, we knew there are lots of things happening. Some students don’t have the same level of extra support. The unevenness of backgrounds of families — we didn’t want that to be a penalty.”

The revamped grading system approaches grade levels differently, with younger students receiving grace from instructors should they fall behind.

However, at the high school level, especially in consideration with seniors, there was an extra hurdle in that there could be an impact on college admission, NCAA eligibility, scholarships, and “many things beyond the reach of our control, teachers will continue to grade students using traditional grading practices during Distance Learning,” the policy reads.

All of this was made more difficult in that districts across the state were waiting for state level guidance, which was delayed in coming from the Minnesota Department of Health.

While the process to adjust grading took time, APS did have the advantage of having marks earlier in the year that could be used as a benchmark in grading.

However, Alberts also noted that should the need for distance learning continue into the fall semester, the grading structure may again need to be approached.

“Should the academic year start with this, we may have to look at something different,” Alberts said. “We had the data point to fall back to — the third quarter or marking period up the point we had distance learning.”

That being said, schools across the state will have had these early experiences to draw from.

“With the Minnesota Department of Education guidelines as well, we’ll have the opportunity to reflect on what things worked an what things didn’t work,” Alberts said. “We’ll learn from what has happened this spring, but I think just because of the nature of it, we’re going to have to change it.”