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Forsyth County Schools issues grading, instruction plan for end of 2019-20 school year
Midway Elementary School
Staff and students of Midway Elementary School in south Forsyth, sit at a computer attempting to unlock a series a math and word puzzles created by fifth graders. - photo by Alexander Popp

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Forsyth County Schools laid out the district’s plans for grading and instruction for the remainder of the school year while students continue learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Tuesday, Fonda Harrison, the school district’s associate superintendent of teaching and learning, presented the plan at the Board of Education’s virtual work session, the highlights of which include a new Monday-Thursday schedule for daily instruction and pass/fail grading for students in K-8.

“I think this plan is respectful to all,” Superintendent Jeff Bearden said. “Our goal is we want to make sure we continue learning, but we also want to alleviate some stress [for families], and I think this plan does that.”

Forsyth County’s 50,000 public school students have been learning from home using itsLearning, the school district’s online learning management system, since Gov. Brian Kemp urged schools to close in mid-March. Kemp later canceled in-person classes for the rest of the school year, and state superintendent Richard Woods suspended mandated testing, like the end-of-course and end-of-grade assessments.

School districts across metro Atlanta and Georgia have rolled out new grading and instruction policies in recent weeks to account for the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on student learning. Harrison said Forsyth County education officials consulted with other school districts and considered state guidelines to craft a plan in line with neighboring communities.

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Starting this week, students will be on a Monday-Thursday schedule. No new assignments will be given out on Fridays; that day will be reserved for students to catch up on work or get additional help from teachers.

Elementary students in kindergarten through second-grade will have no more than 90 minutes of instruction and work per day. That number goes up to 120 minutes for students in third- through fifth-grade. All elementary school students are encouraged to read for 30 minutes a day.

Middle schools and high schools have the option to choose between an A/B block or seven-period day schedule. Students in schools with an A/B block schedule will have 30-40 minutes of instruction and work per subject per day for middle school; that number goes up to 40-50 minutes for high school. Students in schools with a seven-period day schedule will have 20-30 minutes per subject per day in both middle and high school.

Grading will be pass/fail for students in kindergarten through seventh-grade and most of eighth-grade. Grading for eighth-grade students taking high school-level courses will be numeric, which is required on high school transcripts, Harrison said.

Middle schools and high schools won’t have final exams, except for those enrolled in driver’s education. Grading and testing for students in dual-enrollment courses will be left to those colleges and universities.

In addition, middle school and high school students’ grades can’t drop lower than they were at the end of the third quarter, part of a “hold harmless provision” that dictates fourth quarter grades can “only have a positive impact on the overall semester average for students” to account for different learning experiences at home.

That provision also applies to students enrolled in courses at Forsyth Virtual Academy and Georgia Virtual School. 

Meanwhile, Harrison said all students will be promoted to the next grade level “unless very unique circumstances arise.”

“This online platform may not be the best platform for some students,” Harrison said. “We don’t know what the home environments are like. … We could not hold [students] responsible for their grades in a negative way. They can certainly improve their grades based on the scores they may receive over this fourth quarter.”

Students requiring support services, such as special education, ESOL, etc., will receive individualized instruction from teachers. Specialized teachers may work with those students outside of their general online learning to provide “specific interventions.”

Due to the unusual end to the school year, school officials said they anticipate a degree of “learning loss” when students return for the 2020-21 school year. Harrison said district staff is already trying to account for that.

“We know the beginning of next year is going to look very different from what we have ever experienced before,” Harrison said.