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Wake schools to switch to pass/fail grading for students during coronavirus pandemic


The Wake County school system will switch to issuing pass/fail grades instead of using traditional grades because of the move to remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Wake County Superintendent Cathy Moore said Friday that grace and flexibility is needed during the pandemic and that they’re “asking the impossible of teachers” who are also trying to take care of their own families. Moore said that based on state guidance, the district will primarily issue pass/fail grades to students — and not just to seniors as was determined by the state.

“It is paramount to remember the unprecedented conditions that students are learning in and to focus on engagement more than evaluation,” Moore said Friday at a news conference. “Moreover, the state board guidance makes clear that learning should be accessible by all students for which the learning is intended and that districts will focus on supporting student progress and communicating feedback to students and families rather than on assigning grades.”

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In an email sent Friday to parents, Wake said that they’re considering the 3rd quarter to be over for all students. In grades 6-11, students who have a 60 or higher as of March 13 — the last day before schools closed — will get a “P” for passing grade. If it’s below 60, students will get an “I” for incomplete, but teachers will give kids an opportunity to pass.

Elementary school students who were at a Level 2, 3 or 4 as of March 13 will be marked as passing. Students who were at Level 1 will be marked as incomplete with the teacher developing a plan to help the student.

Wake says that the district will decide how to record final spring semester grades for grades K-11 after getting guidance from the state Department of Public Instruction.

“Students should put best efforts into 4th quarter content to the degree feasible in the current circumstances,” Wake says in its grading documentation.

Wake’s decision could have an impact on the state’s other school districts. Wake is the largest in North Carolina, with nearly 162,000 students.

State wants fairness in giving grades

All North Carolina public schools are moving to distance learning because they’re closed through at least May 15 to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Remote teaching will officially begin Monday at Wake’s modified-calendar schools and early college high schools. It will start April 13 for both year-round and traditional-calendar schools. The district said the schedules “have been developed to provide maximum flexibility in order to meet the needs of individual students, families and teachers.”

“We want to assure parents that the learning is important and it continues to be important,” Moore said. “But we also want to assure them that it is the academic growth and the learning activities and the opportunity to engage meaningfully that are most important.”


The State Board of Education approved a policy last week saying that high school seniors would get a passing grade instead of a traditional letter grade if they were passing as of March 13. Spring semester grades won’t count for seniors in their grade-point-average.

Wake told seniors on Friday who’ve passed “that they’re encouraged to engage in 4th quarter material for their courses.”

But the state board allowed regular grades to be issued for grades K-11 if schools could meet “critical factors” such as ensuring all students have access to the materials during the move to remote learning.

Teachers will give feedback instead of grades

DPI provided additional guidance Thursday on the “critical factors.” DPI also says it will provide additional guidance on final grades for the spring semester for grades K-11 if schools don’t reopen.

“In order to assess learning with traditional grades you’ve got to meet factors that ensure that every student has access,” Moore said. “That will be difficult for us. We know that that’s not the case.”

Instead of traditional letter grades, Moore said that teachers will provide students feedback on “appropriate learning activities” as they keep them “academically engaged.”

The Wake County school system plans to distribute by April 13 devices to the 28,000 students who don’t have an adequate computer and the 10,000 students who don’t have wifi access and need a mobile hotspot.

School board chairman Keith Sutton said that families will be notified when to come to school to pick up the devices. If they can’t come, he said the district will deliver the devices to them.

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