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TUSD considers modifying grades amid surge in failing scores

Grading changes at TUSD - Rebound State of Education
Posted at 12:09 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 20:42:04-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — A surge in Failing grades during the pandemic has districts scrambling for solutions. The first semester ends this week.

KGUN 9 has learned Tucson Unified is now making or considering a temporary modification in grading.

The administration sent a memo to teachers this week — but when we asked the district for details, we were told there is no modification to grading. Here’s what we know.

The memo sent to middle and high school teachers clearly states: "The following temporary modification to grading practices and policies address the challenges of remote learning."

Tucson Unified School District memo on grading policy changes
Tucson Unified School District memo on grading policy changes

It spells out a "temporary letter grading system," and explains it’s designed to "alleviate academic pressures on students." And there’s a lot of pressure the district reported an alarming rise in F grades.

RELATED: Arizona school districts see surge in failing grades amid COVID-19 learning changes

The change is clear in a snapshot of the 1st quarter grades in one high school core class -- a class of about 20. Halfway through the quarter, more than half the class was failing. Most scored below 40%. The struggling students averaged eight absences — a driving factor in failing grades.

One TUSD teacher who wants to remain anonymous explains how severe it is.

“So there are some classes that I had anywhere between six and 12 students missing from my classes. And I’m like, this is crazy,” the teacher said.

The document shows most students who started out with F's stayed there.

The district memo on modifying grading states that teachers need documented school outreach and student support in order to issue an F.

For non-failing students, it’s possible to change a final grade to a "P" or Pass.

According to a letter that went out to TUSD families Wednesday, all students can ask for a P.

Teachers tell us for years they’ve understood that it was only an option in elective — not core classes — like Language Arts and Math. That’s not mentioned in the letter to parents.

But these memos aren’t the only documents we’ve seen addressing grading. A recent PowerPoint by a grading modification committee reveals they found district-wide grading practices and criteria are inconsistent and highly subjective.

The recommendations that they plan to present to the Board of Education mirror what is seen in the district memo. The PowerPoint also recommends grading adjustments take effect the first semester until students return to traditional learning.

At the school level, a recent email shows one principal asked teachers to consider other options to help failing students. Those options include excusing missing work if students mastered the material or put 50% in for all zeros in the grade book — meaning students get 50 points for just being assigned the work.

We asked the district about the changes, and their response is confusing and surprising. The district told us there is “no modification to any grading system”.

But the district memo clearly states “temporary modification to grading practices and policies." A number of TUSD teachers we spoke to say they believe it’s a modification.

The district won’t comment on the principal’s email. We also asked for an interview, but the district only sent a written response.