Grades during online school: did they put the “C” in COVID-19?
By Lila Cohen, Deputy Editor
Considering the effects of students’ grades reach far and wide, many view grading as the heart of the American public school system. Grades are what get students into college and beyond. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, teachers were forced to drastically shift the way they taught and, in turn, the way they graded.
One could easily assume that amid a global pandemic, economic crisis, and socio-political turmoil, the grades of VHS students would slip.
“When we looked at all the data, I honestly kind of assumed that our trends would be worse [and] we would have more kids with failing grades. But when we looked at it, the grade trends were pretty comparable to our normal grade trends,” VHS counselor Tara Vanselow said.
However, the numbers only capture a brief snapshot of what was really going on in students’ lives.
“The data] doesn’t mean that people weren’t struggling, but I think that so many adjustments were made during that time; both content-wise… [and workload-wise],” Vanselow said.
While the administration gave a lot of creative problem-solving freedom to teachers, they did their best to have a very hands-on approach. In previous years, the pass-fail option was only given to students in extenuating circumstances, but during online school the administration felt that greater accessibility to the pass-fail option was necessary. The pass-fail option was intended to take some stress off of students. And while the administration implemented pass-fail grading for more students, they left a lot of grading adjustments up to the discretion of teaching staff.
“What I appreciate about the administration is that they allow teachers a great deal of freedom and opportunity to experiment and adjust as needed. There’s not one way of doing something, so teachers really can try different things, and I appreciate that,” geometry teacher Warren Maierhofer said.
VHS teacher Jason Butler shared Maierhofer’s view.
“Danny Rock and Mr. Guss [were] super supportive [in] allowing teachers to basically reinvent whatever they wanted to do because of the circumstances, and [they gave] us a lot of leeway in what we taught, how we taught our classes, [and the] different policies we wanted to implement,” Butler said. ¨I just felt like they allowed us to be creative and to solve the problem of COVID and online school and all that stuff how we felt it was best to be solved. They weren’t mandating that we do certain things — they were allowing us to just figure out the problem, which I thought was awesome.”
Despite the freedom teachers were given, at the end of the day most aligned on their priorities. Many teachers felt that it was their responsibility to give students as many chances as possible to show that they were able to meet standards.
“Last year I took the perspective that I really needed to provide lots of opportunities for students to be successful — even more than what I normally would consider a good dose of opportunity,” Butler said. “I made sure that I was not creating barriers [with] my policies or systems that prevented them from showing me that they participated in the work … Anytime I thought a student wasn’t doing well … I always ask myself, ‘am I creating a boundary for the student to not be successful?’ And if I was, I would figure out how to eliminate that boundary, not just for that student, but for all students.”
The effects of the pandemic are expansive, and while grading might not be the most important, it does greatly affect the VHS community – staff and students alike. Teachers are doing their best to keep the practices that worked for them during online school in an attempt to improve the way they teach.
“Ultimately I think [it is] really healthy for us as a system [to learn to readjust.] I actually hope we don’t just go right back to the way things were, but that we take something [away from the experience]. Like ‘What could we be doing differently that maybe makes education more accessible for more students?’” Vanselow said.