Loudoun teachers will return to the virtual classroom next week to continue training on how best to finish out the school year with their students stuck at home. They got a new challenge this week as the School Board directed that students be offered the opportunity to strengthen their year-end grades if they put in the work.
School division staffers have worked in recent weeks to get Chromebooks into the hands of student who didn’t yet have them, and to begin handing out 1,500 hotspot devices for students—and teachers—who don’t have reliable internet access at home. Teachers also have been offering review work assignments for students to complete at home.
On Monday and Tuesday, teacher training will ramp up as they prepare to offer some live online lessons, as well as roll out the teaching of new material.
Administrators across the state have been wrestling with how much weight to give the online-only work during the fourth quarter, with the direction leaning toward a no-grades assessment approach. However, on Tuesday, the School Board said Loudoun’s teachers should create higher expectations.
Specifically, the board set a policy that teachers could improve their students’ grades if they demonstrate a mastery of the material in the weeks ahead.
Administrators at the state and local level, and some School Board members, resisted that concept because of concerns that online course offerings wouldn’t provide a level playing field for all students.
Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) was among the opponents of the proposal. She said that students who will be called upon to babysit their siblings or have to find jobs to help support their families during the economic crisis would be at a disadvantage. Concerns also were raised that special education student may not be able to fully participate in the online environment.
“This could create an even greater opportunity gap than we have right now,” Sheridan said.
However, Beth Barts (Leesburg), the chief proponent of the change, said it was unfair to essentially freeze students’ grades based on work completed before schools closed on March 11 as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Students and parents want ways to improve the grades, she said.
Other board members agreed, saying they wanted to keep students engaged—and motivated—in their studies over the next two months. Several noted that at-home learning will not be able to address the needs of each student, but they said efforts to achieve equity under the unprecedented circumstances should not come at the expense of broader educational goals.
Jeff Morse (Dulles) was among those willing to trust teachers to use their professional judgment in assessing students’ performance. “Let’s give kids a little opportunity to recoup if they need it,” he said.
After a motion to delay a decision until a future meeting failed, the board voted 7-2, with Sheridan and Leslee King (Broad Run) opposed, to allow teachers to improve grades based on fourth quarter work.