Ga. Department of Education announces plans for grading, testing, graduation after COVID-19 closures

Request to cancel all state school testing approved

ATLANTA — The Georgia Department of Education has announced formal plans for how the school system will handle testing, grades and graduation for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

“Students should not be held back in their expected progression – graduation, advancement to the next grade, etc. – as a result of the COVID-19 school closures,” the GaDOE said in a statement Tuesday.

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Channel 2′s Tom Regan talked to Georgia School Superintendant Richard Woods, who said the state is working closely with federal officials to make sure state schools get the funding they need during the pandemic and closures.

The federal government has approved a series of waivers that address issues schools face for the rest of the year.

Woods said for some, the issue is when to end online instruction.

“In some areas, I’ve heard some districts say, ‘Yes, we will end the school year earlier, but we will start the school year even earlier as well,’” Woods said.

He said the state is allowing teachers wider flexibility in grading so students can advance on to their next grade. Each district will have a lot of autonomy in making decisions.

“Our school systems know their district better than anyone, and I trust what they are doing,” Woods said.

Woods said officials are working to expand internet access for students in rural areas and provide more free meals.

Here’s what the announcement means for testing, grading and graduation:

Testing:

The GaDOE said Tuesday that it has received formal approval from the federal government to waive testing for the rest of the year.

“It became clear as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed that there was no realistic path to offering state assessments this year – and, frankly, that testing is not what students, parents, and educators should be focused on at this time,” Superintendent Richard Woods said.

Because Georgia Milestones testing is canceled, students won’t get end-of-year report cards, since those test results account for a significant portion of the scores.

Grading:

How students' grades will be calculated will be up to each local district, but the DOE has issued guidelines directing districts to "be sensitive about the realities students and staff are dealing with during this time."

The guidelines include possibly adopting a "no zero" policy for all assignments since schools closed, allowing students to redo or resubmit assignments.

For grades K-8, school districts will be allowed to grade courses on a pass/fail basis instead of by numeric scores.

The pass/fail option is not available for grades 9-12 because of how grades impact college acceptance requirements -- so high school students will get numeric grades.

But districts are advised to adopt "no zero" policies for assignments since schools closed or allowing students to resubmit or redo assignments.

“Parents should be assured their high school student will not be penalized for circumstances outside their control,” GaDOE said in a statement.

Graduation:

No senior will be held back from graduating on time due to COVID-19 school closures. Districts may choose to graduate seniors and issue diplomas to seniors as planned, but hold formal ceremonies later in the summer.

The GaDOE does not dictate the last day of the school year or set ceremony requirements.

Students feel the impacts:

Regan talked to students and parents about the difficulties of having to spend the rest of the school year learning at home.

“I’m so proud of the way my daughter, Emily, and her group of friends and the way they are handling it,” Christine McHenry said. “These seniors, it’s such a shame. They’re going to miss out on this milestone graduation.”

Student Nicole Allario said online learning presents a lot of challenges.

“Doing stats and bio online, when you can’t go in and ask for extra help (is hard),” Allario said.

Centennial High School senior Bella Allario said she and other students have been talking to the principal about alternatives for graduation.

“He’s looking for ways we can have an untraditional graduation, but still make it fun,” Bella Allario said.

Centennial parents have also been talking to the principal about delaying the graduation ceremony until summer.

High school seniors share struggles of virtual learning