Democracy Prep Revises End of Year Grading Policy in Light of COVID-19

Democracy Prep is a learning organization. We rigorously examine our own policies and think about how we can improve them.

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on families across the country, and families of color in particular have disproportionately shouldered the impact of the pandemic.

One of our goals as a network is to increase equity for our scholars. This pandemic has exacerbated many societal inequities, and we believe it is important that we do not allow COVID-19 to unfairly punish scholars when it comes to their education. With that goal in mind, we have reexamined our grading and promotion policies in light of COVID-19.

Here are a few (but not all) of the changes that we’ve made in light of COVID-19:

1. Grades from Trimester 3 can only help scholars’ final grades, not lower them.
There are a variety of reasons why remote learning can be more challenging than traditional school-based learning. Obviously, teachers are not with students in person. There may be multiple scholars sharing a computer or IPad to access their online lessons. With everyone home from school, older scholars may need to watch their younger siblings while their parents or caregivers work. Given COVID-19 and the effects it has had on families, we believe that it would be unfair to penalize scholars for their grades in the final trimester (T3). If a scholar was struggling after T1 and T2, they have an opportunity to help themselves in T3. T3 will only count towards calculating a scholar’s final grade for the year if it benefits them. Otherwise, Trimester 1 and Trimester 2 will count for 50% each.

2. Scholars will only be retained in very specific circumstances.
Elementary school: All scholars will be promoted unless their reading levels and math averages were so low as of March 13 that their teacher and school leader think they would have been slated for retention by year’s end anyway due to how far off grade level they were at this time.
Middle/High school: A student would only fail a course if at the end of T2 the scholar had no way to pass a class mathematically for the year. If a scholar fails 4 or more courses using this calculation, they will be retained (unless they have been retained previously at that campus, in which case the scholar will be promoted with a clear support plan). For scholars with IEPs and English Language Learners who meet this policy’s criteria for retention, school leaders, ACT*/ELL Coordinators (or teachers), and ACT Managers will hold a more extensive review to determine each scholar’s promotional status. *ACT stands for our Academic Collaboration Team which works with our students that need additional support.
As a result of this policy shift, a very small portion of our student population will be retained this school year.

3. Promotion to the next grade level is not tied to Trimester 3 OR summer school performance.
This deviation from the norm accounts for the realities of remote learning. While we believe in continuing to challenge and engage our scholars remotely, we do not believe it would be fair to make promotional decisions based on performance during remote learning. That said, we absolutely believe in continuing to support our scholars over the summer. We are offering remote Summer Academy across all grade-level bands and schools. The goals of Summer Academy will be twofold: 1) support our scholars with unfinished academic learning to better set them up for success for SY 20-21, and 2) accelerate learning through enrichment for targeted scholars.

With these adjustments, there are options provided to ensure scholars’ academic success in the long-term. We continue to believe in challenging and engaging our scholars, but we also recognize that for a once-in-a lifetime event like COVID-19, it would be unfair to use our normal grading and promotion policies. We will continue to assess grading policies for the 20-21 school year, taking into consideration various scenarios for what school could look like at the start of the 20-21 school year and as the school year progresses.

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