RPS changes grading system for elementary students; outlook for reopening not rosy

Ronald E. Carrington | 11/5/2020, 6 p.m.
In a unanimous vote, the Richmond School Board approved changing the grading policy for kindergarten through fifth-grade students for the ...
Mr. Kamras

In a unanimous vote, the Richmond School Board approved changing the grading policy for kindergarten through fifth-grade students for the first semester of the school year.

Harry Hughes, chief schools officer for Richmond Public Schools, told the board during Monday night’s meeting of the challenges associated with assigning letter grades at the elementary level during virtual instruction.

The change eliminates traditional letter grades—A though F—to Exemplary (E), Satisfactory (S), Needs Improvement (N) and Unsatisfactory Progress (U).

The grading change will be applied only during the first semester.

Parents, elementary schoolteachers and administrators voiced concerns about traditional grading during virtual learning for the first and second marking period. A teacher-led online petition, launched in October and signed by 400 people, called for moving away from the traditional grading scale during remote learning.

When asked by School Board member Kenya Gibson, 3rd District, why the proposal only applied to elementary students, Mr. Hughes told the board, “We need to give grades to middle school students trying to get high school credits and high school students credits for their classes. Additionally, we need to give grades as students apply to specialty schools inside and outside of RPS. Middle and high school students are more familiar with technology and have a greater chance of submitting all of their assignments,” he added.

The change in the grading system is the latest adjustment as RPS grapples with education during the coronavirus. In September, the board approved shortening the school day after RPS teachers and families reported student exhaustion from long hours of screen time.

In other matters, Superintendent Jason Kamras indicated that he is not optimistic about in-person instruction for the second semester of the school year because the coronavirus continues to spread. He anticipates a decision will be made at the School Board’s Dec. 7 meeting. This will provide teachers the opportunity to prepare for the next semester.

RPS will begin surveying parents next week to get their comments about sending their children back into the classroom.

Preliminary results will be presented to the School Board at the Nov. 16 meeting, with final results expected at the Dec. 7 meeting.

The administration also will engage the Reopening Committee, which helped RPS through the first semester decision, to review the latest information from the Richmond Health District and the Virginia Department of Health, as well as assess the readiness of school facilities.

Mr. Kamras expressed his continuing concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in the city, state and across the country.

According to local and state health departments, as well as the nation’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, minorities disproportionately have contracted and died from the coronavirus.

Mr. Kamras indicated that Richmond’s African-American and Latino residents represent about 54 percent of the city population, while the district has a 90 percent minority population.

The School Board has continually voiced concern about bringing students back into the classroom and the possibility of spreading the virus to students, teachers and staff.

As RPS remains virtual, public schools in Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties have moved to some form of combined in-person and virtual instruction.