A return to letter grades

Teachers hope it will bring sense of normalcy

School supply donation drive
School supply donation drives held this month have signaled that the start of the remote school year is around the corner. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

The resumption of a traditional letter-grading scale in Minneapolis Public Schools, announced Aug. 5, has generally been welcomed by families and teachers, who are preparing to start the school year in online classes.

When classes start on Sept. 8, students in grades 6-12 will be evaluated on an A-F scale, though high school students on pace for Fs will be given the chance to recover credits through virtual programming.

While traditional grades were scrapped in the spring to provide flexibility to students, teachers still used the A-F scale to evaluate students’ progress, said Justice Page Middle School science teacher Tracey Schultz. (Schultz was a teacher at Clara Barton Open School last year.)

She welcomed a return to the traditional grading scale, adding that grades can be motivating for some students and that families typically have a better understanding of such systems.

“Anything we can do as normal should be [normal],” she said, adding that it will be critical to make accommodations, such as being lenient about late work.

Roosevelt High School sophomore Fernando Velazquez said he doesn’t think there should be a grading system this year.

“It’s unfair to people who put in a lot of effort,” he said. “Anyone could get a good grade right now.” School Board member Ira Jourdain (Southwest) said a lot of colleges look at students’ letter grades when making admissions decisions.

He said the district is better suited this year to support online learning because it has more support in place for students who receive special education services and more flexibility for teachers to provide one-on-one support. Still, he said he worries about teacher and staff burnout.

“They’re being asked to do a lot more with a lot less,” he said.

Teachers will be conducting virtual lessons in real-time, the district has said, though specific requirements about when and how much students will be expected to be online haven’t been announced. (Last spring, students were not expected to attend real-time classes.)

College apps

School Board student representative Nathaniel Genene, a senior at Washburn High School, said he’s hoping for a more regimented schedule this school year.

He said a lot of students are worried about college applications, asking how they’ll be able to receive letters of recommendation without being face to face with teachers. Genene’s first application is due Sept. 19.

Washburn senior Vincent Gladbach, who is on the Millers’ football team, said he thinks online school will be better this fall because teachers will be prepared, though he’s not necessarily excited about it.

He said it was disappointing when the Minnesota State High School League announced it would be delaying the football season until 2021, but the team will keep practicing and lifting weights.

As teachers get ready to return to work the week of Aug. 24, the school district is collecting supplies to be distributed to students at in-person welcome activities.

Michelle Kellogg of the district’s external relations department said the district hopes to distribute 15,000 supply kits, adding that headphones are a hot commodity this year, with families looking to maintain quiet home-learning environments.

The school year for students in grades 1-12 will begin on Sept. 8. Visit the district website for more information on back-to- school programming.