Fairfax Co. Public Schools plans to respond to uptick in failing grades with new grading policies

Come the new year, Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia will have some new grading policies in place to help curb the dramatic spike in students receiving failing grades during the pandemic.

“We’ve seen some really, really large increases in percent of students earning ‘F’ grades,” said Sloan Presidio, the school system’s chief academic officer.

According to an internal report, which looked into student grades this school year, in the first quarter the school system saw the number of middle and high school students with at least two F’s increase 83% compared to previous school years, with almost 9,700 students finding themselves in that position.

Two populations that have been impacted the most by lower grades since the start of the pandemic have been students with disabilities and those who are learning English.

Almost 1,200 more students with disabilities saw at least two F’s during the first quarter — an increase of 111% over last year.

Almost 1,800 English learners fell into that category — a change of 106%.

Presidio said they have been hearing from many students who say they want the school system to listen more closely to their concerns, especially when it comes to the struggles of distance learning and the impact it is having on their educational careers.

“The many voices of students that we continue to hear have concerns about the impact of grades on their academic future,” Presidio said.

Presidio told school board members Thursday that grading policies have been modified. The change is expected to kick in after the winter break.

Among the changes: A 50 out of 100 will become the lowest score a student can get on an assignment, turning in work for major assignments late will only come with minimum penalties and no single assignment can be worth more than 20% of a student’s final grade.

The school system will also reduce the minimum number of assignments per quarter from nine to six.

In addition, Presidio said the school system will look at being more flexible with final exams and may consider changing how final marks are done and whether pass, no pass or incomplete grades should be used.

The school system also plans on offering summer school programs that can help struggling students catch up.

It’s also planning to host parent-teacher conferences with parents of students who are at risk of failing or not graduating. Those conversations would happen in the family’s native language.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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