School Board approves distance learning grading

Change in educational format during pandemic creates issues of equity, access and hardship for many

by Jim Boyle


The Elk River Area School Board has adopted a new grading system for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

The request comes in response to Minnesota’s E-12 public education system’s move to distance learning to prevent community spread of COVID-19.

“This system has, at times, created stress, anxiety and uncertainty for educators, families and students,” the School Board’s agenda packet stated. “As a result, we have been working to design new assessment and grading systems that cause no harm and minimize long-term detrimental impacts for students.”

Assistant Superintendent Jana Hennen-Burr called the distance learning grading system a product of many voices and many fingerprints that shaped this plan.

The head of educational services said that the district has been working with teachers, students and families to continue the educational process through distance learning.

Hennen-Burr said school officials understand through conversations and surveys sent out to students, families and staff that it has presented unprecedented challenges.

“Grading is one of those areas,” Hennen-Burr said. “With that in mind, ISD 728 is proposing to implement a new grading system for the spring semester. It will not be a broad brush or a one-size-fits-all (solution).”

School Board members approved the proposal unanimously and without questions. School Board Chairman Shane Steinbrecher asked Hennen-Burr to pass along the board’s appreciation for all the hard work.

“We recognize that it’s not perfect and one-size-fits-all,” he said. “But we think you did a really good job with this. We think it’s the best in this situation.”

Below is what the board approved.


A. Not grade third trimester.

B. Ask teachers to provide a brief summary of each students’ participation and work.

C. Ask special education teachers to finalize and upload each student’s progress reports in SPED Forms by June 5.

D. Ask teachers to make personal contact with each student/parent to wish them farewell, gather feedback, and share that their child has moved on to the next grade level.

E. Provide all students with a year-end summary statement regarding engagement and grade promotion.

Middle school

A. Assign all students who have received 70% or higher a letter grade of A, B or C; if coursework scores fall in the range of 50-69%, students will receive a P for pass; if coursework falls below 50%, students will receive a U for unsatisfactory for that course.

B. For courses that are yearlong, a calculation will be used to determine a final grade for the year by adjusting the percentage that each quarter is weighted. First through third quarters will each count 30%, while fourth quarter will count for 10%.

C. Principals and teachers will work individually with students and families to modify content expectations based on student needs and will grade students accordingly.

D. Teachers will continue to work with students and families to provide ongoing feedback through the end of the school year.

Hennen-Burr said: “What we want to be so cognizant about is equity and access. Not every child has the same access. We want to be really sure we are grading fairly for all students.”

High school

A. Continue with the current grading system.

B. Principals and teachers will work individually with students and families to modify content expectations based on student needs and will grade students accordingly.

Hennen-Burr said of high school students: “High school students will continue with the current grading system primarily because there are so many tails, especially to a senior’s final year as we look at PostSecondary Enrollment Option, college entrance or technical school entrance. We don’t want to jeopardize that. What we also commit to doing for each and every student is we will modify content, modify expectations and work with families accordingly. We will do everything in our power to ensure students are graded fairly.”


Hennen-Burr’s team used the following considerations during their work:

•Minnesota Department of Education guidance.

•Conversations with other Minnesota school districts related to their grading practices.

•Equity: Every family is experiencing different situations due to COVID-19, thus students may be working, babysitting, left alone, lack proficient internet access, etc.

•These can be difficult times and flexibility needs to be provided.

•The meaning of grades: Grades are reflective of progress and learning.

•Alternative grading options.

•Student motivation and accountability.

•Assessment as it relates to grading.

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