Fairfax Co. updates grading policy for students who don’t turn in assignments

Not turning in an assignment will have greater consequences for students in Fairfax County, Virginia, this school year.

In an update to its grading policies, Fairfax County Public Schools said teachers can now give students a zero for an assignment that’s not turned in.

The change marks a departure from previous guidance, which said 50% is the lowest grade a teacher can give to a student who doesn’t turn in work. It comes after the state’s largest school system convened a working group to evaluate its high school grading policies last fall.

As part of its updated grading policy for this year, Fairfax County said it’s maintaining its late work policy, which says teachers have to accept major assignments up to two weeks late, and the maximum deduction for that period is 10%. Students who make a “reasonable effort” to finish an assignment will still get a minimum 50%, the county said in a newsletter.

In some cases, according to school board member Megan McLaughlin, grading practices vary from school to school and, sometimes, within a school building. She said the latest guidelines are a directive aimed at standardizing those practices.

“In the era of social media and instant communication, it’s no longer a mystery of what’s happening,” McLaughlin said. “In an instant, kids will know (that) across the county, this high school is doing this and that high school is doing that.”

Some students, according to W.T. Woodson High School Principal Carlyn Floyd, felt the old policy was unfair, because students who completed an assignment but struggled could end up with a lower grade than a classmate who didn’t turn it in.

Since switching to the new policy this year, Floyd said there hasn’t been any pushback. And, she said, even if a student is given a zero, they still may be able to submit it within the county’s two-week acceptance window for late work.

“If you do nothing, then you get nothing,” Floyd said. “Having that zero in place, it tells the correct story, and it gives you the real picture of what’s going on.”

The previous policy, Floyd said, had less of an impact on a student’s overall grade, so “numerically, (students) do have a chance at bringing that grade up.”

David Walrod, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said under the old policy, “what was happening was students were realizing, if they put in a few weeks of work at some point, they didn’t have to do anything the rest of the year, and they would earn a passing score in a class. And so, we were seeing things like students flat out saying, ‘I’m not doing this, because I’ll get a 50% on it.'”

Some schools have started using a rolling gradebook, which the county says gives students better chances to demonstrate they understand the material. Instead of separating grades into quarters, a rolling gradebook averages all of the assignments during the entire school year.

Those who use a rolling gradebook, according to the county’s policy, have to use reassessment and grading replacement practices. Woodson High hasn’t transitioned to a rolling gradebook yet, Floyd said, because of the training necessary for teachers and the community outreach needed to explain how it works to students and their families.

However, Woodson High does offer retakes for students who score an 80% or less, Floyd said. Implementation of that has been challenging for teachers’ workloads, she said, because they have to make completely different tests for retakes.

But, “The students appreciate it,” Floyd said.

Arlington Public Schools recently made changes to its grading policy, and Prince William County Public Schools launched a task force to review its grading strategies.

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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