The New York City Department of Education announced on Tuesday a new grading policy for remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic in which no student in the public school system will fail this semester.
Instead, students in kindergarten through eighth grade will be marked "meets standards" or "needs improvement."
High schoolers will get grades but can drop them from their GPAs if they want to. And middle or high school students who fell behind because they were sick, didn’t have a device, or because of other crisis-related issues, will receive “in progress” on their report cards, which is similar to an incomplete.
Mayor de Blasio said the policy aimed to give the school system’s 1.1 million students crucial information about their progress while also recognizing the challenges so many are facing.
“We have to recognize that some kids are having a tougher time because of the crisis, emotionally and academically,” he said. “We have to help them catch up.”
Officials said these designations would help identify students who need extra help over the coming months, and plans are afoot to expand summer school for those who need it.
But what exactly those plans will be are still up in the air. “We are working through the shape of summer as we speak,” de Blasio said. He said “at minimum” the education department will have online learning for students who need it, like students in special education.
But many teachers who said they are exhausted from the herculean effort of transitioning to remote learning and then working through spring break are worried about being asked to work through the summer. Parents have also said they’ve reached a limit.
Officials said they’re still discussing how they’ll determine whether a student will be promoted to the next grade.
School districts across the country have been grappling with how to evaluate students during this unprecedented period. The question has been especially vexing here in the epicenter of the pandemic, where the virus has amplified racial and economic disparities, and so many families are struggling with loss.
Six weeks into remote learning, devices have been delivered to a quarter of a million students, but at least 19,000 still don’t have what they need. Some students have said they’re managing, while others report drowning under an excess of homework, difficulty completing assignments, and struggling with anxiety.
Schools Chancellor Carranza said he hopes to “thread the needle” of keeping students engaged while recognizing the strain.
Some parents said they were relieved by the decision. Others said it was too lax, or too strict.
Lucas Liu is a member of the group PLACE, Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education, which advocates for keeping the SHSAT entrance exam for specialized schools and expanding gifted and talented programming. The group includes some of Chancellor Carranza’s fiercest critics.
Liu applauded the decision for high schools but argued that younger students should be graded as well.
“Why are you throwing out all the work students and teachers put in prior to remote learning,” he said, adding that grades help motivate students and could be a useful strategy for keeping them inside in the warmer months.
He said he believed the mayor and chancellor’s grading policy is part of a broader effort to deconstruct screened admissions in middle and high schools. He noted that most criteria used for screens are now moot: attendance is no longer allowed to be factored in, tests have been canceled, and now grading policies are being relaxed.
But NeQuan McLean, president of Community Education Council 16 in Brooklyn, said the policy was too harsh and would stigmatize vulnerable students.
“Who are you saying needs improvement at this time? The parent? The student? We’re already under stress. This was an add-on,” he said. “This pandemic has shown the digital divide, the wealth divide, the difference between haves and have nots in the city. And this grading policy with this negative language of ‘needs improvement’ takes it to another level.”
McLean joined other parent leaders and social service organizations in calling on the mayor to adopt narrative reports for elementary school students, use the terms “approaching standards” instead of “incomplete,” promote all students, and graduate all seniors.
The mayor said the city would do all it can to support seniors, but stopped short of guaranteeing that they will automatically receive a diploma.
For those who are graduating, he promised a virtual ceremony with special celebrity guests.