On Friday, April 17, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced that all Maryland public schools will be closed until May 15, 2020. While we are eagerly looking forward to reopening our school buildings and welcoming back staff and students, we know that the decision to extend the closure will help ensure the health and safety of our staff, students and families.
We successfully completed the third and final week of phase one of our continuity of learning plan. We know that this has been a challenging time for all of you—you are navigating new technologies and learning how to work in new ways, all while balancing your lives at home. Thank you for your dedication, commitment and perseverance to providing students with meaningful learning experiences and the social-emotional support they need.
As we prepare to launch the next phase of online learning on Monday, here is what you need to know:
New Grading and Reporting Framework
Over the past several weeks, MCPS has explored grading and reporting options for the 4th Marking Period. This work included reviewing the approaches of other public school districts, contacting colleges and universities and soliciting feedback from various stakeholders. This is a complex decision that requires thoughtful planning and collaboration. We have determined that a traditional grading system based on percentages and letter grades will not serve the best interests of all students during this period of online learning. We want to ensure that our grading system has a positive impact and can only help our students’ academic standing.
As is the case with any grading policy, there is no perfect grading system, which is amplified even more now during a very stressful time for families. However, we believe the following strategies for grading and reporting will let us know if students are learning, without penalizing them for the impact the global pandemic may have had on their families.
In middle and high schools, a traditional letter grade system will not be used for the 4th Marking Period. MCPS is developing a grading and reporting framework for secondary schools that is commonly known as “Pass/Incomplete” or “Credit/No Credit” for middle and high school courses for the remainder of the year. We believe that this grading approach will ensure fairness and equity for all students, while engaging students in the curriculum, providing meaningful feedback, and tracking their progress. We are working with stakeholders (teachers, parents, students and union leaders) to launch this new system and ensure that teachers and students understand the criteria for success. We understand that there will be many questions about implications of this grading approach, and those questions will be answered. But we know that traditional grading practices will not benefit all students during this time and a more universal approach is necessary. After we gather additional input, more information about implementation of this system—including how the final semester grade will be reported—will be provided in the coming weeks.
Letter grades will not be assigned for the 4th Marking Period. The emphasis will be on engaging students in learning experiences outlined in the Continuity of Learning Schedule with a focus on connecting with and engaging as many students as possible. During Marking Period 4, the focus will be on:
- Providing students the opportunity to engage in a variety of learning experiences.
- If an area of concern is identified, the teacher will follow up with the student and/or parent.
- Engaging students in academic and social-emotional work.
- Providing teachers with information so that when students return to school, they will know which skills to work on, and how to engage them in learning at the next grade level.
Our Guiding Principles for MP 4 are to:
- Provide a balance of structure and flexibility for teachers and students.
- Ensure maximum flexibility, fairness and equity.
- Avoid any systems or unintended practices that could negatively impact a student’s academic standing.
- Protect our most vulnerable students and students who historically have not benefited from traditional grading practices.
- Engage students in the curriculum during class lessons and provide meaningful feedback.
- Focus on student well-being, understand the anxiety of the current situation, and reduce stress.
- Support students in ways that help promote a growth mindset and feeling of progress in learning.
- Provide maximum flexibility in assignment expectations.
- Engage in collaborative planning with colleagues.
- Deliver lessons to students during Continuity of Learning.
- Students will receive consistent instruction across the academic content areas.
- Check in with students, deliver additional instruction and feedback, and support students through virtual office hours, individual check-ins, emails and phone calls.
- Students will have opportunities to continue to connect with their teachers, receive support, and make progress on assignments through check-ins and office hours.
- Provide meaningful feedback to students and parents about student progress.
- Students and parents will receive informal feedback from teachers.
Continuity of Learning Framework
At the elementary level, math lessons will continue to take place three times per week. Literacy lessons will continue to take place two times per week. The centrally developed lessons will continue to be pushed out on Friday mornings for the following week. English Language Development (ELD) lessons are aligned to extend the weekly Benchmark Advance and Eureka Math lessons. These lessons are housed in core lesson modules within the homeroom teacher’s myMCPS Reading and Math courses. During this time, it is important to ensure our students are emotionally well. Please use the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons during class meeting time.
Art, Music and PE modified content is centrally developed. Teachers can adapt to meet the needs of the students, but should adhere to the modified scope sequence. Content modules are released bi-weekly via myMCPS Canvas and are linked to the sectioned courses. Linking for PreK courses may follow additional steps to access content as these courses are not sectioned for grading and reporting. PE Guidance Document for PreK
All library media programs will have a public-facing website, Destiny Discover site, and a virtual classroom presence (myMCPS Canvas or Google Classroom), updated to reflect Continuity of Learning in a virtual space. Informational literacy lessons are available to students via myMCPS Classroom or Google Classroom. Content modules are released weekly via myMCPS Canvas and are linked to the sectioned courses.
In middle and high schools, we will deliver new content and assignments to students; connect with and support students during office hours, according to the local school schedule; and provide feedback to students. More information about professional development opportunities; highlights of best practices for instruction and office hours; and other upgrades for the 4th Marking Period will be sent next week. Centrally developed courses in myMCPS Classroom in core classes across all content areas are now being published to myMCPS Commons on a weekly or biweekly basis. Teachers are able to use these courses or adapt the materials to create their own lessons and assignments, in collaboration with their teams. Administrators, counselors, special educators, and other support staff will continue to be available for students and families
Student Attendance and Accountability
Although daily student attendance will not be taken in traditional ways, teachers and school administrators will monitor student engagement and participation. This will be monitored in a number of ways, including:
- Assignment completion
- Students attending live sessions or virtual office hours
- Email or phone calls with students/parents/guardians
- Paper/pencil assignments that students turn in
We want to stress that student engagement and participation in remote learning is critical. Please contact your administrator to make them aware of students that are not engaging in Continuity of Learning.
The State Board of Education voted to waive five of 10 emergency closure days from March 16 to March 27. This means that school districts in Maryland will only need to make up five days. MCPS has already made up three of these days by reducing spring break and has one additional unused emergency closure day that was already built into the calendar. We are planning on using April 28 as an instructional day given that primary Election Day has been moved to June and will now be in a vote-by-mail format. The last day of school will be June 15, 2020
Guidelines for Navigating the COVID-19 Crisis
MCPS has established guidelines and best practices for staff through the COVID-19 crisis. Please see our new staff webpage that contains guidelines, resources and links to a number of topic areas, including implementation of the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act. We will update this page regularly as the situation evolves.
George B. Thomas Learning Academy Offers Online Support
Beginning Saturday, April 25, the George B. Thomas, Sr. Learning Academy (Saturday School) will be launching an online enrichment platform, The Learning Academy Online. The goal of this new platform is to support families and students who are currently enrolled in the program with mastery of the MCPS curriculum through distance learning and to continue to build positive relationships with students and families. More information will be available on the Saturday School website.
New Locations Added to Meal Service Program
Beginning Monday, April 20, MCPS will add two new sites to its food service distribution. The new sites are John Poole Middle School in Poolesville and Meadow Hall Elementary School in Rockville, bringing the total number of sites to 50. Details on times, dates and locations can be found on the Coronavirus webpage.
Monifa B. McKnight, Ed.D.