How should schools grade during a pandemic?

In Spring 2020, the New York Times and Washington Post, among other newspapers, published stories about schools adapting their grading policies in lieu of a sudden shift to emergency remote learning. More close to home, the Quad City Times ran a similar story describing Bettendorf school board deliberations around third quarter grades. In response to these unprecedented times, schools utilized “do no harm” grading methods, such as freezing the previous grades, replacing letter grades with pass-fail and providing students’ choice among the aforementioned methods. Colleges and universities were in a similar position during the spring and continue to adapt this fall, according to one Harvard administrator who said, “This is not a normal semester.”

Fast forward to the current academic year and Iowa K-12 schools are currently implementing a variety of instructional delivery models, providing 100 percent remote options for families and quickly moving students in and out of quarantine-induced learning environments. Any sense of “normalcy” beyond our current pandemic-era of learning appears to be months or perhaps years away. For over 100 years, researchers and practitioners have documented educators’ use of grades and concluded that when a “hodgepodge” of factors go into determining a letter grade, the output, frequently in the form of a letter grade, does not adequately communicate what a student has actually learned or is able to do. Rather than serving multiple functions (i.e., points for participation, progress and proficiency), grades ought to serve a single purpose: communicating students’ current levels of learning. In this column, I offer three grading principles focused on communicating learning that school leaders should consider during pandemic-era learning.


**For the rest of this article entitled, “Perspectives: How should Iowa schools grade during a pandemic?” which was written for the University of Northern Iowa College of Education, click here.

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