TWIN FALLS — The ways learning and student success are evaluated have shifted as Magic Valley schools continue to teach from a distance.
On April 6, the State Board of Education extended the soft-closure of Idaho public schools through the end of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several factors complicate students’ ability to learn during the shutdown, including access to technology, varying learning styles and family stress. Many districts have eased grading policies in response.
State Board President Debbie Critchfield said the goal is to finish out the academic year doing the best it can for students.
“This COVID-19 event will certainly produce lingering memories of a difficult time,” Critchfield wrote in a statement. “We hope those memories will reflect well on how Idaho’s public education system adapted for students and for their futures.”
The focus in Twin Falls School District is less on strict accountability and more on offering resources for students to continue learning in an unprecedented time, Superintendent Brady Dickinson said.
“We’re just trying to make the most out of a bad situation for the kids and do what we can to provide them as many opportunities as possible,” Dickinson said.
For secondary students in Twin Falls, assignments will continue to be graded using a point or percentage-based system. Fourth-quarter grades, however, will be pass or fail.
Semester grades are a bit more complicated since GPA is necessary for many things, such as determining eligibility for colleges and athletic programs. Teachers will decide students’ marks for the semester by looking at their third-quarter grade and adjusting for work completed during the fourth quarter. The final semester grade cannot drop by more than one letter from the third quarter.
This system will incentivize students to keep up with their work but alleviate some stress for families during a chaotic time, Dickinson said. The decision also recognizes that access to technology varies and many students are not able to receive individual support from their teachers that they would otherwise.
“Students are basically losing eight weeks of instruction,” Dickinson said. “I really hope that during this period they can maintain the skills they have so that they don’t lose out and have that achievement gap grow.”
Jerome School District is sticking to a more traditional grading system, but Superintendent Dale Layne said they’re trying to be as flexible as possible. Some hands-on or lab-based classes will be evaluated as pass-fail if necessary.
“We’re trying to continue the learning, but we’re not going to punish anybody because of the situation that they’re in,” he said.
Layne said the biggest focus right now is on maintaining core skills in reading and math to mitigate the effects of a longer “summer slide” — the annual forgetting of materials that takes place while students are away between school years.
“Some of these things we’re not going to make up,” Layne said, “but for many of the kids in the long term, they’re going to be just fine.”
Idaho Education News surveyed 72 school districts throughout the state and found that 44 have adopted some form of a pass-fail grading model. About 20 districts are continuing on with standard grading, though some have eased certain requirements.
Pass-fail guidelines don’t apply to high school students taking dual credit courses. Grading methods are up to each institution, but students will continue to receive college credit regardless of how it’s calculated.
The College of Southern Idaho is mostly using standard grading, but the school is allowing instructors to move individual students to pass-fail if requested. Dual credit students can take advantage of the opportunity as well.
Chief Academic Officer Todd Schwarz said at a board meeting Monday that the system offers some flexibility but students should be aware of how the pass-fail method affects their GPA before requesting the switch.
“Our approach takes a little pressure off the students and engages the faculty in the decision making,” Schwarz said.
Advanced Placement tests have been postponed. The College Board is working to offer those tests from home. Those who earn a 3 or better will still receive credit at all Idaho public higher education institutions.
The requirement that all Idaho public school students take the SAT has been waived, and the scheduled day for all juniors to take the test has been canceled. The State Department of Education is looking at either rescheduling the testing day for next fall or offering students a fee waiver to take the test when they choose.