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An update to our grading policies during distance learning

Grading policy changes

Maleigha Logan, a kindergartner at Goodview, looks over a lesson on Seesaw during distance learning.

The following is a message from Superintendent Dr. Annette K. Freiheit to our families regarding changes to grading policies during distance learning.

Dear families, 

At Winona Area Public Schools, we expect excellence from all of our students. But we also must do so, as our mission statement says, with compassion in order to meet their needs. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have relied on our mission, our vision and our values to guide our decision making, to sharpen our focus and to remind us of what is most important — our students.

Normally, the school environment serves as an equalizer. Everyone has the same desk, the same teacher, the same textbook, the same uninterrupted class period. 

During distance learning, however, that is not the case.

This unprecedented moment has created stress, anxiety and uncertainty for our students and our families. While some may be thriving in distance learning, others are overwhelmed and need additional support. Students do not have uniform access to technology, support or safe spaces to learn like they would in a typical school environment.

That is why Winona Area Public Schools, acting on guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education (linked here) and feedback from staff, students and families, has altered its grading policies. The MDE guidance emphasizes “holding all students harmless” and recommends that “a student should not be reported as a failure and retained or given an F during this unprecedented situation.”

The following grading policies have previously been shared with you: 

  • Early Childhood: The last checkpoints taken prior to distance learning will be used for end of the year data. 
  • Elementary (Grades K-4): There will be no formal grades for the third and fourth quarters. Teachers will provide feedback to each family on student progress throughout distance learning and at the end of the year.
  • Middle School (Grades 5-8): For the second semester, both core academic and exploratory classes will move to Pass/Unsatisfactory progress.
  • Winona Area Learning Center: The ALC will issue grades of A, B or C. Students earning a D or F will continue with that course until earning a C or better. There are no penalties for late assignments. This is consistent with the grading procedures in the ALC handbook.

The grading policies for Winona Senior High School have been further altered since the last communication. 

Due to external situations (impact on college admission, NCAA eligibility, scholarships and more), high school teachers will need to continue using some traditional grading practices during distance learning. 

Students will earn one of the following grades for courses in the third and fourth quarters: A, B, C, Pass or No Credit. If No Credit is in consideration, the teacher, counselor, Special Education coordinator (if applicable) and an administrator will discuss it before June 3. Staff will need documentation that shows a No Credit grade is appropriate, in which case the student has a lack of attendance and hasn’t completed any work. The final determination will be made by an administrator after meeting with the counselor and teacher.

All work and/or assessments will be accepted by teachers up until the end of the school year on June 5. If a second semester grade in periods 3, 4 or 5 is lower after March 16, cumulative grading will raise the student’s semester grade or a Pass will be given (unless an administrator determines a No Credit is more appropriate.) Third quarter grades will be updated to follow these grading practices.

There will be no final exams the week of June 1-5 except for College in the Schools courses. This is time to complete class work and projects that have been assigned, or small groups or 1-to-1 assessments to support students. Staff can and should look to exempt students from particular assignments or assessments per needs of individual students.

For students in all grade levels, a note will be placed on transcripts and report cards from 2020 to 2023 or beyond if needed that says: “Grades that are documented during the time period of March 16 through June 30 of 2020 reflect the distance learning period resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Future use of these grades for academic placement, admission, acceleration, or remediation is discouraged and should only be used with caution after balancing the information against student performance in other grading periods.”

When our school buildings closed and our educators put together our distance learning plan, we knew that some of our students would struggle more than others. For these students, it’s not a matter of effort. It’s not a matter of intellect. It’s not a matter of courage. For many, it’s a matter of multiple circumstances beyond their control. 

We would be failing to live up to our mission if we punished these students during this unprecedented situation. Yes, we owe it to our students to expect excellence, but if it’s not grounded in compassion, we aren’t meeting the needs of all of our learners.

If you have any questions or concerns about your student’s grades or evaluation, please contact your teacher or your building principal.

Thank you for your continued cooperation, your kindness and your understanding as we continue to navigate this pandemic. We truly value your support.

Thank you,

Dr. Annette K. Freiheit
Winona Area Public Schools