After more than one month of virtual schooling, Great Falls Public Schools officials decided last week to implement a pass/fail system for the district’s high school and middle school students.
GFPS Superintendent Tom Moore said officials agree -and spent much time working to reach an agreement - that this grading system is what’s most beneficial for students at this time.
“Our principals at both the elementary and the middle school and high school levels have spent lots of time looking at all aspects of this issue and have come up with a system of grading that we think minimizes the impact on students,” Moore said.
When discussing future plans for high schools within the district, officials agreed on a ‘do no harm’ philosophy to ensure students suffered the least amount of negative impacts.
“Our intention is to do the least amount of damage or impact on a situation that’s not ideal to begin with,” Moore said.
Officials felt the system offered several benefits including:
- neutral impact on GPA
- increased opportunity for seniors to graduate
- ability for students to be assessed on their understanding of concepts rather than understanding of technology or virtual learning systems
GFPS Assistant Superintendent of grades 7-12 Heather Hoyer said the pass/fail system is intended to help those students whose learning would be hindered by the switch from physical to online classrooms.
“Grades were starting to become in some cases not all but in some cases more about who could access the curriculum - emotionally, technologically, academically- than truly about the deep understanding that would be taking place in the classroom if they were able to do that face-to-face instruction,” Hoyer said.
While the pass/fail system has several benefits, officials acknowledged that it does adversely impact those students who require letter grades for specific academic purposes - like scholarship opportunities or collegiate admission.
School administrators can work with those students to develop an alternative grading method.
“Students who are adversely affected by a decision that we’ve made for pass/fail grades- we’re going to have to take those things into consideration, '' Moore said.
Whether the student passes or fails will be based on that student’s performance in the third quarter as well as their current proficiency level and engagement with the subject.
“Our teachers had plenty of information really up through the third quarter to determine whether the student was on track in that particular course or not. So now it’s a matter of looking at what evidence they have to make sure the students maintain that track and what essential skills were addressed in this last quarter that either the students have shown proficiency on or not...so it’s not the teacher’s sole discretion, it’s what the student’s done to show their proficiency and engagement,” Moore said.