Denver students can earn credits, but not grades, for remote work

As schoolwork moves online during the coronavirus pandemic, Denver students won’t earn letter grades, and high school students’ spring semester work won’t factor into their GPAs.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Aurora, high school students will continue to earn grades, but younger students will just get feedback on their work.

Districts in Colorado and across the nation are grappling with how to fairly assess students during these unprecedented times. Millions of students are learning at home, with limited access to their teachers and sometimes to the technology and internet connection they need to complete assignments. School districts are trying to balance competing interests, including preserving some level of accountability and not penalizing students for difficult circumstances.

In backing away from grades, Denver joins Tennessee, where the state board is considering a recommendation that classwork done after March 20 not be graded, and Illinois, where the state board urged districts to move to a pass-or-fail system. In addition, a group of community leaders in New York City is calling on the nation’s largest school system to move away from letter grades for the time being.

Colorado education officials have not made any specific recommendations about grading, but they have generally urged districts to be flexible with students.

Denver Public Schools sent guidance to principals this week that calls for students to either earn credits for their coursework or not.

“The first few weeks of remote learning should be focused on engagement and participation as students and teachers get accustomed to this new environment,” the guidance says.

For high school students, the new model will focus on ensuring they understand the “big ideas” and “competencies” of a course, the guidance says. Whether or not a student earns credit will be based on “a body of evidence” that could include essays, presentations, or projects.

GPAs won’t be affected by work done remotely. Class rankings for seniors will be based on students’ GPA through the fall semester 2019.

Denver students in kindergarten through eighth grade will also be graded on a credit system, the guidance says. The district expects to release more details about how students will be assessed next week.

Denver high school teacher Melea Mayen said some of the first questions her students asked when they logged on for remote learning Tuesday were about grades.

“The first five or six questions I had in each class were like, ‘Hey, how can I bring up my grade?’” Mayen said. “I was like, ‘As long as you’re doing your work, you’re not going to fail.’”

Chalkbeat reporters Yesenia Robles and Erica Meltzer contributed to this report.