When it comes to grades, Ridgefield students have options

The coronavirus epidemic has wreaked havoc on the end of the 2019-20 academic year, closing schools to in-person attendance and sending learning online for the final months.

But for students in Ridgefield and their peers across the state and throughout the nation, several silver linings have emerged: Waking up later, wearing sweatpants to virtual classes, and not having to rush to catch the bus home (and leaving the textbook you need in your locker).

One area in which students now have options is especially rare: Their grades.

Most school districts have altered traditional grading systems to account for the upheaval in learning, and Ridgefield is among them. The district recently announced a revised grading plan that gives students at all three levels (K-5, 6-8, 9-12) the chance to make choices.

“During these unprecedented times, it has never been more important that we approach complex decisions like grading in a careful way,” wrote Superintendent Susie Da Silva in a letter sent to parents April 23 announcing the district’s revised grading policy for the current school year. “While the parameters of instruction have shifted, so have students’ methods of engaging with curricular content, along with teachers’ abilities to assess student thinking, understanding, and mastery of that content.

At Ridgefield High School, students have three options: Take a letter grade for the fourth (and final) marking period and the course; take a pass for the entire course after receiving the fourth-quarter grade; or take a pass for only the final marking period after receiving the fourth-quarter grade.

The third option was added following feedback from teachers, students and parents.

“The addition of a third option (a pass for just marking period number four) really allows for all possible student scenarios,” said Craig Creller, an assistant superintendent who oversees curriculum instruction.

Students are graded normally throughout the final quarter and must achieve the minimum final grade of a 65 in order to be eligible for the pass option for the course; they must have at least a 65 for the fourth quarter in order to take the pass option for that marking period only.

“The decision to opt for a pass cannot be made until the grade is received,” Creller said. “And more importantly, you cannot waive an F. A student must pass the quarter and course to have the pass option.”

With final exams canceled at the high school, changes were also made to the grade-weighting calculations. Each quarter now counts for 22.5% of a students’ grade, a slight increase from the usual 20%. Midterm exams count for the remaining 10%.

For eligible students who choose to waive only their fourth-quarter grade, the final grade for the course is based upon the first three quarters and the midterm.

Students who opt for a pass get credit, but not weight, towards their GPA (grade-point average). A pass does not lower any GPA, and the option to take a pass will be noted on the student’s transcript as a legitimate, state-supported option.

Students who opt for the assigned grade by the teacher receive the normal credit and weight towards their GPA.

At East Ridge and Scotts Ridge middle schools, students are graded normally throughout the fourth quarter and have two options: Take that grade or take a pass for the course.

Students who opt for a pass get credit for the class but no letter grade on their report card, while students who opt for the assigned grade receive that letter grade for the course on their report card.

For students in grades K-5, the second trimester grade will be documented as the last grade.

The third trimester report to parents will consist of commentary and qualitative observations in five subjects: Reading, writing, mathematics, integrated studies, and specials.

Third-trimester commentary will focus on content delivered and student interactions, and also provide summary comments.

For students with special services, individualized grading accommodations/modifications are still being followed. For students receiving special education services, information regarding June Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Progress Reports will be issued based on guidance from the Connecticut Bureau of Special Education.

“The rationale and design to our K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 grading approaches honors student and faculty efforts to maintain reasonable expectations and accountability, while also respecting the varied demands and home situations that students and families are dealing with right now,” Da Silva wrote in her April 23 letter. “Lastly, the district aims to ensure that the revised grading design for this school year does not place students at an unintended disadvantage as they make future decisions about their educational paths.”