Grading the school’s lost quarter

Ron Burtz
Even though there was not one minute of in-classroom instruction during the fourth quarter due to the statewide coronavirus school shutdowns that began in mid-March, school administrators say they are proud of the way everyone came together to make the learning continue at home. 
Acknowledging that “it’s been hard,” Custer Elementary principal Barb Paulson and jr./sr. high principal Orion Thompson said, for the most part, staff, parents and students are to be applauded for their efforts. 
“The parents and kids who went through the effort to make this as good as it was going to get were amazing,” said Thompson adding, however, he is glad the ordeal is over. 
Both administrators said they were proud of their staffs for their flexibility and hard work in keeping in touch with their students and generating assignments during this unusual event. 
“Our teachers were excellent about staying in contact with the parents and providing opportunities,” said Paulson. “Even our paras [paraprofessionals] also reached out to students who needed extra help. We just had everyone doing all they could to try to meet the needs of the students as best we could from a distance.”
Paulson recalled ruefully what she calls “that infamous Friday, the 13th in March,” when the word came down from the governor’s office that schools would be closed statewide the following week. She said that sent teachers scrambling to try to figure out how to help parents and students continue to do school work at home. 
“Looking back, we might have done some things differently,” said Paulson, “but we just made it happen and got started and we learned and got through all of the struggles and I think got to a pretty good place a little quicker than other places that didn’t do that. They’ve done an amazing job.”
Paulson said the teachers held class meetings with their students via Zoom videoconference every day, adding that some teachers had to work especially hard.
“Special ed teachers were pretty much in Zoom meetings seven to eight hours a day with students in order to meet their goals,” said Paulson.
Thompson said he was also proud of his staff for working so hard to generate assignments and trying to keep students on track during the distance learning experiment. 
An important link in the chain of instruction was the parents who were suddenly thrust into the role of teacher during the crisis. 
“The parents did a great job,” said Paulson. “We have excellent families that did the best they could under the circumstances. We tried to accommodate as many family situations as we could to meet the needs of the students.”
Because of guidelines calling for social distancing, the faculty needed a way to pass along assignments and other materials to students and receive back homework while limiting contact. The solution came with periodic drive-through pick-up/drop-off days during which school staff members received and delivered materials to students and parents as they drove through the school parking lots. 
Paulson said the first two such events saw 100 percent participation, noting that there are only “a couple of things yet to come in” from the final drive-through day May 14. 
As for the students, Paulson admits a few took the shutdown as a vacation, but said she was generally pleased with how the majority of students responded. Furthermore, she said “some students really excelled in this situation.”
Looking forward to next fall, Thompson is nervous about moving forward and how it will play out, adding that it will take extra effort to help students get caught up.
“The backfilling efforts to catch kids up will be very important,” said Thompson. “There will be gaps and we are already discussing ideas for helping our kids. This has been an epic change to people’s norm.”
Rapid City superintendent Dr. Lori Simon announced recently that the district will adopt a ‘no fail’ approach to the final quarter of the 2019-20 school year. In a general email, Simon said the “lowest grade recorded for any assignment, quiz, test, etc., will be 70 percent.”
In Custer, however, Thompson said junior and senior high teachers will do pass/fail grading for students for the fourth quarter and apply their third quarter percentage grade to the semester grade so issues are not created on transcripts for college. 
“We didn’t want this distance learning to handicap a kid and bring them down,” added superintendent Mark Naugle. “We were always really trying to work with a kid to make sure it benefited them as much as we could and not hurt them because this is so new.”
Naugle was also complementary toward district personnel for their handing of the unprecedented situation and he said he hopes to learn from it. 
“One of the things we’re going to do very soon is survey parents, students and teachers and get some feedback on what we can do better,” said Naugle.
He said he also plans to get the staff together to try to unify the various platforms they have been using to keep in contact with students. 
“That clarity will help everyone if we have to do this again in the future,” he said.  

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