Loudoun County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Ashley Ellis presented updated information regarding the district's distance learning measures, including grading and assessment tactics, during Tuesday's Loudoun County School Board meeting, which took place online via Cisco WebEx.
Teachers began distance learning efforts Monday by providing students with learning opportunities covering previously learned content. These efforts will continue through Friday, which marks the beginning of spring break, which will still take place as scheduled through April 12.
Instructors can provide optional learning opportunities to be completed over break and remain in virtual contact with students. Material available for review of previously covered material is also available at lcps.org/continuityofeducation. Any optional learning opportunities distributed by teachers over break will not be graded.
Instruction beginning April 15
LCPS teachers will use April 13 and 14 as professional development and planning days to help them prepare to start implementing new content into distance learning experiences on April 15.
Teachers for grades third through twelfth will continue to provide these opportunities synchronously and asynchronously, while kindergarten through second-grade teachers will be able to provide offline learning opportunities through ParentVue or other means of communication with families. Packets of English and math material will also be mailed to K-2 families every two weeks beginning April 15.
Guidelines for student work time beginning April 15 are the same as those set before spring break. Kindergarten to second-grade students are expected to do up to 60 minutes of work daily; students grades third through fifth should do up to 90 minutes; and students grades sixth through twelfth should spend up to 30 minutes per class, up to three or four cumulative hours a day. Efforts of those enrolled in AP or dual-enrollment courses are to align with course expectations.
Specific guidelines for teachers of all grades regarding communications with students, including office hours, will be developed prior to April 15. As of Tuesday, the last scheduled day of distance learning is June 10, though that date is under review and pending input from the board.
Assessment and grading practices
LCPS considers March 11 — the last day of school prior to the closure period — the end of the third quarter. Grades and report cards for the quarter will therefore be based on student activity through that date.
According to Ellis, third-quarter report cards for elementary schoolers will be based on student progress through March 11, while grades for middle and high schoolers will be determined based on completed work. Middle and high school teachers are to provide students opportunities to make up missing work until April 17 and will finish reporting third-quarter grades by April 24. Ellis said no assignment or assessment after March 11 should negatively affect a student's third-quarter grade.
While teachers will use the gradebook to provide feedback and track student progress, no grades for the fourth quarter will be reported in the Student Information System for students at any grade level. Teachers may still assign numeric values for assignments in the gradebook to track student progress.
The decision to not assign grades to work completed during the closure aligns with recommendations from the Virginia Department of Education, which has said grading decisions are ultimately left to the jurisdiction of local divisions. Equity and access for all students are the main concerns leading to the VDOE's recommendations.
A student's final grade for each course will be determined by one of three processes, whichever results in the most favorable number grade. These include: averaging the grades from the first three quarters; averaging the first semester and third-quarter grades; or administering a first semester grade in addition to a pass or fail for the third quarter and the final grade, in which case GPA would be calculated using the first semester grade. The first option will be used for all elementary school students, who do not receive first semester grades.
After the resulting grades are shared with students and families, they will be given the option for either the numeric grade or a pass/fail assessment. If a student's final grade is detrimental to his or her GPA and their parent or guardian provides no input, the grade will be pass or fail. The date by which families are to select a final grade option has yet to be determined.
Graduation and grade-level promotion
At the end of her presentation, Ellis said questions regarding graduation and other milestone activities still remain. However, in a March 24 release, Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane announced his plans to ensure all high school seniors who were on track to receive diplomas this spring will do so despite school closures.
"[Governor Ralph Northam] and I agree that every student who was on a trajectory toward earning a diploma should be able to graduate on time and move on to the next stage of his or her life," Lane said in a prepared statement. "I hope the flexibility that I am announcing today will help students and teachers as they cope with the deep disappointment of having their time together unexpectedly cut short and of not being able to enjoy the recognitions and celebrations that should be a part of every student's graduation experience."
According to official VDOE guidance, students should receive standard credit for courses in which they are currently enrolled "if they were successfully completing the course as of March 13." The department also recommends that students who were not passing a class at the time of the closure should have the opportunity to "demonstrate competency" so that they might receive a credit for graduation, though school divisions can require new instruction for these students.
For high school students enrolled in credit-bearing courses who plan to graduate in 2021 or later, divisions "must award standard credit ... by ensuring that students have completed a majority of required standards, competencies, and objectives," according to the VDOE. The department also provided options for providing necessary instruction to students grades Pre-K through eighth, whom divisions "must ensure ... are equitably prepared for success in subsequent courses" while not preventing them from being promoted to the next grade.
More detailed information on VDOE recommendations for graduation and grade-level promotion requirements is available at doe.virginia.gov/support/health_medical/office/covid-19-grad-credits.shtml.
Additional student support
According to LCPS documents, the school system may not be able to provide all services to students with disabilities "in the same manner they were typically provided in the traditional school setting," due to the unprecedented nature of the school closure period. The Office for Special Education remains in contact with the VDOE and the U.S. Department of Education to understand expectations for how special education programs should be run amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Online and offline resources for students with disabilities are available on the LCPS Continuity of Education webpage. School case managers will collaborate with teachers to provide assistance for students with a Section 504 plan, which provides accommodations to students with disabilities. Families can contact their student's case manager or school counselor with questions.
Limits and hindrances due to school closure may also affect the division's provisions for English-learning students, a matter on which LCPS continues to seek guidance from the state and federal education departments. The division's Office of English Learners has also added instructional resources for these students to the Continuity of Education site. Those enrolled in Sheltered EL Courses will receive assignments and instructions directly from teachers.
A document further detailing Loudoun County Public Schools' education continuity plans is available at go.boarddocs.com/vsba/loudoun/Board.nsf/files/BN8NT2614558/$file/Continuity%20of%20Education%20Plan_033120.pdf.
Tuesday's School Board meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/402298676, with questions from the board for Ellis beginning around the 2-hour, 4-minute mark.