The Vernon Township School District will not move to the pass/fail option it had recently considered.
At last Thursday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Karen D’Avino and Assistant Superintendent Charles McKay said they decided not to recommend the option after listening sessions with teachers and administrators the previous two Mondays. They said they would like to maintain the current grading system except to raise the lowest possible grade to 55.
“The idea is we want our students to be successful, so they are responsible for the grade they earn,” McKay said. “If we put the threshold in there, we’re saying we don’t want their failing grade to so affect them that they would give up on the process of education. Therefore, we’re trying to hold it at a certain point so they would try to be successful.”
Parents have been attending board meetings monthly and sharing the struggles their children have been having with remote and hybrid learning since the pandemic began.
Heather Franey has two children in the high school and one in Lounsberry Hollow Middle School. She told the board that her children are suffering, and advocated opening campuses, which are now shut down for a second time since the pandemic began.
“My children are trying,” Franey said. “They’re not as resilient as people think. They really are suffering. From what I’m hearing in parents’ groups, the mental health of our children is deteriorating, and children are suffering. The schools need to be open. Our children need to be in school. If you have more than one child, it’s very difficult to balance all of this.”
McKay said grades have improved during the second marking period. He said he will report back at the end of the marking period in January.
“I respect the input from our faculty and educators and hear the concerns being brought forward by students and families that are really struggling during difficult circumstances,” said board of education president Justin Annunziata. “Balancing those two inputs is very challenging. I understand this is an administrative decision. I would like to see us do more to support our students with our grading policies in these circumstances. I think we can do more.”
Greater flexibility urged
School board members discussed putting greater emphasis on student participation and effort, and making those qualities a larger part of their grades.
“I agree that pass/fail may not be the right motivator,” said board member Mark Cilli. “But if every student can feel, ‘Hey, I feel like I put forth the effort, I have a real chance.’”
Board of education member Jennifer Pellet said she’s heard from parents about the need for more leniency with late work.
Board member Theresa Scura Coughlin read a letter from administrators saying teachers have been encouraged to be very flexible with assignments, grading, and work submitted late. The letter said this flexibility has resulted in positive outcomes.
Administrators reached out to parents of students who are failing. They said their discussions revealed student engagement to be a problem.
“They have found ways to open the lines of communication, and the grades are improving,” McKay said.
“My children are trying. They’re not as resilient as people think. They really are suffering. From what I’m hearing in parents’ groups, the mental health of our children is deteriorating, and children are suffering. The schools need to be open. Our children need to be in school. If you have more than one child, it’s very difficult to balance all of this.” Heather Franey