Arlington Public Schools updates student grading policy with retakes, late assignment options

Superintendent Francisco Durán said he has signed off on changes to the middle and high school grading policy at Arlington Public Schools that will allow students to retake or redo assignments and reduce the weight of quizzes or homework on a student’s overall grade.

Under the new policy, which is scheduled to go into effect July 1, according to school board documents, students will have the opportunity to retake or revise class assignments like tests, projects or essays.

School system teachers will be responsible for determining how the assignment is changed, how long students have and how a retake is implemented. Only the higher score, the policy says, will be used to calculate the student’s grade.

The changes come as part of the school system’s new approach to grading that emphasizes equity. It has worked to pilot and implement equitable grading processes across the division in recent months. As part of the policy revision process, Durán said, he formed a working group of representatives from each school.

Durán also signed off on tweaks to the elementary school standards-based grading process, including revised performance levels and updated grade descriptors. All changes will be in place for the start of the 2023-24 school year.

The updates, Durán said at Thursday’s school board meeting, should “motivate (students) to continue by learning to redeem themselves and learn the material. It also will increase the rigor by insisting that all students achieve mastery rather than accepting just a one-time failure.”

Proponents of the equity grading model say it reduces subjectivity and makes it possible for student grades to accurately represent their overall knowledge. Opponents argue it doesn’t prepare kids for life after high school.

The policy also says homework shouldn’t account for more than 10% of a student’s quarterly grade and describes a grading scale from A to E. Late work turned in after the due date but within a given teaching unit will be graded, the policy says, but could be penalized up to 10% of the value of the assignment.

Assignments considered formative assessments — items like homework and quizzes — can’t account for more than 40% of a student’s quarter grade, the policy says.

And, when calculating grades, the policy says, “When a teacher has evidence that a student demonstrates a higher level of performance than a calculated marking period, semester grade, or final grade indicates, the teacher should assign the higher grade.”

Anne Stewart, a social studies teacher at Yorktown High School, said during a work session on the topic last month that allowing students to retake assessments “had a tremendous impact on not just student grade improvement, but more importantly, an impact on student content knowledge and their skills.”

At the same meeting, school board member Reid Goldstein said he was concerned the change would allow students to think there’s flexibility in deadlines in life after graduation.

Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school system, said last fall it was reevaluating its high school grading policies, though it hasn’t been discussed since.

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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