Great Falls Public Schools announced on Thursday that it is adopting a "Pass/Fail" grading system for middle schools and high schools for the remainder of the academic year.
The decision comes after several weeks of state-wide school closures due to COVID-19 restrictions, with students now engaged in distance learning rather than attending on-campus classes. Governor Steve Bullock ordered all public K-12 schools to close starting on March 16 ; the closure order remains in effect, and there is no word at this time whether schools will re-open before the end of the current school year.
Montana education leaders, including the Office of Public Instruction, recommended several days ago that public school districts extend distance learning through the end of the current school year, and not conduct large in-person graduation ceremonies. Bullock's stay-at-home order and school closures are currently scheduled to run through Friday, April 24th. However, he could again extend those order based on advice from public health experts.
A letter signed by Heather Hoyer - the assistant superintendent for secondary schools - explains the circumstances and reasons for the "pass/fail" decision. Hoyer acknowledges in the letter that distance learning is "challenging and unique to our students, families, and teachers who support them," and that GFPS understands that distance learning can't recreate the experiences that students get from face-to-face instruction "delivered by talented and passionate educators."
She says that while students and schools have a shared responsibility in distance learning, "we believe that students should not be held accountable for their inability to get help, their lack of access to technology, or other circumstances outside of their control."
We contacted GFPS on Friday for more information about the decision, but they declined to comment, saying that they will provide more information on Monday.
The letter states:
"Beginning the second semester for high schools and third trimester for middle schools, all secondary students will receive a Pass (P) or Fail (F) grade, reflected on report cards and high school transcripts. PowerSchool will continue to show letter grades until final grades are placed on report cards. College level classes must follow the grading scales determined by the university responsible for the class, some are Pass/Fail, some are Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory, and some are letter grades. These differences will be reflected on the collegiate transcript, not the high school transcript."
"A passing grade - "P" indicates that the distance learning expectations have been met and that students are proficient enough to move to the next level of learning. Credit is earned, but a "P" does not impact the grade point average/GPA (enhance or hinder). A failing grade - "F" indicates that the distance learning expectations have NOT been met and that students are NOT proficient enough to move on to the next level of learning. Credit is not earned; an "F" DOES negatively impact the GPA.
"Unless a student fails a course, there will be no change to a student's cumulative GPA. If a student fails a course needed to graduate, credit recovery opportunities will be made available, as is our past practice. Class rank, for the purposes of scholarships and awards, was not impacted by COVID-19, as it is always calculated at the end of seven semesters."
"After careful consideration, the Great Falls Public Schools has decided that this revision in our grading practices is the most appropriate course of action to support our students, families, and staff during these challenging times. Once again, we do not take this decision lightly, but rather sincerely believe that the uncharged territory we are now forced to navigate requires us to rethink grading expectations designed for more traditional models."
The letter concludes by saying seniors and families of seniors should soon receive additional guidance from their respective principals, and to contact your principal if you have questions.
The letter was posted on the GFPS Facebook page .