MONROE, CT — An online petition by parents urging Monroe public schools to reverse the pass/fail only grading option at Masuk High School has 122 signatures on Change.org, with a goal of 200.
Despite assurances from local educators that colleges understand this marking period is an anomaly because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, many parents are concerned over, what they see as, a “one size fits all” approach of pass/fail grading.
Those who signed the petition contend giving students the choice of having the traditional grading system will allow them to work hard and improve their grade point averages and class ranking, so they can stand on equal footing with students in other districts during the college admissions process.
Masuk students’ GPAs will be based on the first three quarters of the year, with the fourth quarter as pass/fail. But Acting Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza said college admissions offices will not put as much weight on the fourth quarter grades.
“We’ve talked to colleges all over the country now and everyone had said the same thing. They’re going to factor in that the fourth quarter will look different all over the country,” he said.
Kobza said Masuk graduates are already viewed as strong applicants with the school’s success in academics, athletics, the arts and the robotics program.
Masuk’s fourth quarter grading system is pass, fail, incomplete and passed with distinction.
Distance learning became necessary after the state required school buildings to close to slow the spread of the coronavirus. On Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont decided that schools will stay closed until the end of the academic year.
In March, the school district had to quickly come up with a distance learning program, then figure out how to assess student performance.
“I was fine going with a choice, but the more we looked at it, it’s not equitable,” Kobza said.
He expressed concern that a traditional grading system amid unusual circumstances could unfairly change class rankings, putting scholarships for the valedictorian, salutatorian and top 10 students at risk because of drops that would not have occurred otherwise.
Kobza said some students are struggling with distance learning and may have trouble with things like wifi. Some families are also affected by the virus. In some cases, he said students are caring for younger siblings or helping with their family’s business.
Kobza said if there are two students with the same GPA and one chooses pass/fail and the other does not, that would also be unfair.
Of traditional grading, Kobza said, “if everything else was equal, fine. But it’s not.”
On the flip side, some parents are concerned about lower ranked students losing the opportunity to improve their standing before college.
However, Kobza said history shows the changes in seniors’ GPAs due to fourth quarter performances have been minimal.
“In a traditional year, 83 percent of our kids stay the same or go down at least one-third of a letter grade,” Kobza said.
An emergency situation
The pass/fail grading is only meant to be temporary.
“This is clearly not a long range solution,” Kobza told the Board of Education at a meeting last week. “It’s a fourth quarter solution. It’s an emergency situation. My job is to do what’s right, not what’s easy. And I think this is the best thing for the kids.”
If the pandemic forces distance learning to continue into the fall, Kobza said the district will have to come up with something other than a pass/fail grading system.
“But we’ll have time to plan for that,” he said, adding of distance learning, “this was a matter of days in putting something together and teachers are still working to figure out how they can best leverage technology to meet the needs of kids.”