As the academic year gets underway, Rochester Public Schools is unrolling its new grading philosophy and students will have much of the same leniency with their grades as they did this spring when distance learning first began.

At the end of last year, the school district announced that its grading guidelines would be based on a philosophy of “do no harm,” since students and teachers had to make such a sudden shift mid-year due to the pandemic.

At the onset of this year, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, Brenda Wichmann, spoke about what the grading system would look like, considering the pandemic is still affecting the district. Secondary students in Rochester are doing distance learning like they did this spring. Elementary students are in the hybrid model.

As it turned out, the grading system they decided to use as a result of the pandemic is compatible with the new philosophy the district has been working toward for several years called “Grading for Learning."

“Grading for Learning is still going to happen, and can happen in distance learning, hybrid and face-to-face (learning models),” Wichmann said.

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According to the presentation Wichmann gave in August, Grading for Learning is based on “the four big ideas,” which include:

  1. “Homework, quizzes, and other daily tasks are formative practice and should not negatively impact a summative academic grade.”
  2. “Reassessment is allowed on all summative assessments.”
  3. “Nonacademic factors are not counted in the summative academic grade.”
  4. “Only evidence of student proficiency toward learning targets or summative assessments is used to reach a summative academic grade.”

“Really, grading for learning -- these big ideas -- they lend themselves really perfectly to distance learning for sure,” Wichmann said. “When kids are focused on the feedback and not the grade, that is really what’s going to help us with Grading for Learning.”

The process of implementing Grading For Learning goes all the way back to 2016. The district began using the new system last year, but it should be fully implemented this year, according to the district's website.

During her presentation, Wichmann explained what the actual grades would look like for students.

According to the guidelines, secondary students will receive grades of A, B, Pass or No Credit. The Pass and No Credit designations will not impact the students' GPAs. There also will not be a cumulative final exam schedule during the 2020-21 school year, according to the presentation.

"We really came to this system quite naturally," Wichmann said.

The presentation also covered how grading will impact elementary students. Unlike the secondary students, the grading for elementary students will look a little different from what it did this spring. At that time, the students could earn “met standard,” “standard not graded,” or “teacher does not have sufficient evidence to know if standard was met.”

This year, the students can earn “not yet,” “approaching,” “secure,” or “NG” for each prioritized grading standard. However, “NG,” which stands for “not graded,” will only be used for those who enroll near the end of the reporting period.

"We feel glad that we're able to get this out there now to let our parents and students know that is how they're going to be held accountable," Wichmann said.