How schools are rethinking online grading

'Our big push is to do no harm' one district administrator says
By: | April 7, 2020
Superintendents and principals across are concerned traditional grading techniques could disrupt students' academic progress during online and remote learning. (gettyimages.com: rjp85)Superintendents and principals across are concerned traditional grading techniques could disrupt students' academic progress during online and remote learning. (gettyimages.com: rjp85)

Equity is driving many schools to adjust their approach to grading during online and remote learning, particularly for students who don’t have reliable internet or tech tools.

Superintendents and principals across the country are now considering pass/fail, “floor grades” and other methods to ensure the challenges of distance learning during coronavirus closures don’t upend their students’ overall academic progress or their paths to graduation.

“We’re trying to balance the need for students to continue plugging along with the need for this time to not be catastrophic for students who are not able to as work easily,” says Michael Thorsland, superintendent of the School District of Oconee County in South Carolina.

Thorsland’s team is considering using “floor grades,” meaning teachers can’t give a student below a certain grade, even if the student does little to no work.


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One of the biggest concerns is ensuring that high school seniors can complete all of their graduation requirements, including 12th-grade government and economics classes.

“It’s a balancing act to make grades count enough to ensure students still see the work as meaningful,” Thorsland says. “At the same time, we don’t want to let it be so harmful to a student who doesn’t have parental support or tech resources. ”

The School District of Oconee County has provided all its students with Chromebooks while local business have set up 20 free WiFi locations since school buildings closed. And several years ago, local officials used federal grant funds to install a  fiber-optic network through the rural, mountainous county.

Online grades must ‘do no harm’

Educators in the Oxford Hills School District, Maine, are also making sure seniors’ progress toward graduation isn’t derailed by online learning in the closing months of the 2019-20 school year.

Currently, teachers are providing all online learners with consistent feedback as the district considers moving to a modified pass/fail grading approach, Curriculum Director Heather Manchester says.

“We’re looking at ‘pass/not yet,’ because fail implies that a student is done,” Manchester says. “This situation has revealed some of the inequities we have with students who are taking care of their own children or their families or are working and finding it harder to access learning.

“Our big push is to do no harm,” Manchester adds.


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Senior class rankings, including the top 10% list, were locked in place based on their GPAs after the first semester of this school year.

Some graduation requirements, like community service, have been waived. At the same time, principals, teachers and guidance counselors are “working overtime” to give special attention to seniors who may fall into danger of not completing high school, Manchester says.

“We’re identifying who those kids are, and reaching out and making sure they can access their work and they know what standards they still have to meet,” Manchester says.


DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.