The Lamoille South school district has scrapped its normal grading system for this school year, after the coronavirus forced everyone to teach and learn from home for the last quarter.

Superintendent Tracy Wrend said quick action was needed to alleviate stress for those struggling with remote learning.

“One of the challenges of this time is none of us are able to do our best work,” she said. “This is not a Lamoille County challenge, this is not a Lamoille South challenge, this is not a Vermont challenge … this is a global challenge.”

For students who now feel that their hard work was all for naught, it was hard news to take.

“Your work is something you have to advocate for and defend,” Stowe High School freshman Astrid Young said Monday. “We already gave up so much, like sports and performances, and for all of that to be taken away is devaluing.”

Under the new high school grading scheme, unveiled Friday in a letter to parents and as an announcement on the district website, the only classes that will contribute to a student’s cumulative GPA will be those contained wholly in the first semester. Second-semester and yearlong classes will be marked one of four ways:

• Pass with Distinction, for students above “target performance.”

• Pass, for students “on target.”

• Incomplete, for students who don’t meet expectations by the end of the year, although they’ll be given options to improve those incomplete scores later.

• No Record, for students who don’t improve their incomplete grades. These students won’t earn credit for the course, which could hurt their graduation standing.

Elementary and middle school grades will be handled differently, with teachers issuing narratives of student performance in their classes.

“Given the current varying needs and environments of students and families, the teaching and learning that takes place during the school closure will not be comparable to the education that students experience during the typical school year,” stated the announcement from Stowe High School and Peoples Academy.

This new grading scheme is intended only for this school year, but Wrend said educators are already planning for different scenarios for next fall, and will have to “realign and reprioritize.”

Students affected differently

Young said she and fellow Stowe ninth-graders have almost no chance of finishing the year with a GPA of any sort, because so many of their classes are yearlong foundational courses. Even her elective, chorus, is a yearlong class.

She says it’s a slap in the face to have all 5s on your report card, and not have them count toward a GPA. She said her sophomore and junior years, trying to get that number up, are going to be more stressful.

“I’m a very hard-working student, and I know a lot of us at Stowe, and at PA, are upset,” Young said. “For someone to say that everything you worked on is going to be taken away? It’s saddening.”

A petition launched on Saturday night asks the district to offer students the option of either the GPA system or the new one.

Wrend said colleges are used to accepting students based on all manner of high school performance criteria, and they will all “view this through the lens of an emergency situation.”

Peoples Academy senior Lindsey McCormack says she’s OK with the grading changes.

“In a way, it takes a little stress off of me,” McCormack said. “I think most seniors are in support of it.”

She added, though, if she was a junior when this went down, “I’d be pissed.”

McCormack has already put in her four years, and has already been accepted to American University in Washington, D.C., in the fall of an election year, so she’s itching to finish high school. There’s senioritis, and then there’s senioritis in a pandemic.

“I’m just happy that, when it’s over in the spring for me, it’s all over, because I am very done,” she said.

Young acknowledged that, although she feels she is a “pretty self-directed worker,” remote learning has taken its toll on many of her classmates. Some students don’t have internet or a computer. Some of her friends have to help babysit their younger siblings because their parents have to work during the day, too.

“There are going to be students who work better, and there are going to be students who don’t work at all, which is probably why they made these changes,” she said.

No input from board?

Friday’s announcement asserts the change “is the most accurate and equitable way to grade students” for this school year. The district used guidance from various education organizations and the Vermont Agency of Education.

The district also took cues from how colleges such as Harvard, MIT and the University of Chicago have dealt with grading during the pandemic.

Lamoille Union High School is also making grading changes, the announcement noted, as are other high schools throughout the state.

But Stowe school board member Erica Loomis says the board was left out of the discussion, because Wrend and the school principals made the announcements on Friday and this week without board approval.

Loomis said she wouldn’t have voted for the grade change as a policy “because it does harm to some and a policy shouldn’t do harm to any student.” Instead, she said, it’s the principle of the change.

“The superintendent keeps circumventing the school board and our duties as elected officials. It is hard to answer the public outcry when we are blindsided,” Loomis said in an email Tuesday. “The town of Stowe is losing confidence in the school board and I won’t be a part of it. I joined the school board to hold people accountable and make things better for the kids.”

Wrend told the board May 4 that faculty and staff were working on end-of-year reports to “make sure that they are accurate and fair and do no harm or disadvantage students,” and she would share preliminary information with board members individually.

Wrend said this week that the board’s role is “to assist with vision and accountability,” while staff and faculty are responsible for bringing their professional expertise to educating students. But, she said, “misinformation” was getting out on social media that there would be no records at all this year, and she and the principals opted to announce the changes rather than vet them through the board.

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