Weighing our options

FCPS should expand on its grading policy by halving third quarter weighting relative to other quarters and implementing a pass/fail option


*The following is a staff editorial that reflects the majority opinion of the tjTODAY staff.

When Fairfax County announced that school would be closed March 13 due to COVID-19, little did we know that in 10 short days we would be faced with the news that we would not be stepping foot in a classroom to learn for the rest of the year.

With the cancellation of the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year, FCPS has implemented a distance learning plan for its students to learn the remainder of their curriculum from home. Work assigned prior to March 13 have their deadlines extended to April 24, and students will be assigned a “no mark” for fourth quarter, with any work done during this grading period intended to benefit students’ grades.

Thus far, the grading policy gives students breathing room as they adjust to a new kind of life, both from an academic and personal perspective. We hope that FCPS chooses to build upon this foundation by halving the weighting of third quarter work relative to other quarters and implementing a pass/fail fourth quarter to give students flexibility under a fair and equitable system.

How students are learning has changed enormously in the span of a few weeks, and it would be impossible to use grading policies normally applied during the school year to a time that has strayed so far from “normal.”

Since the third quarter ended three weeks earlier than originally anticipated, it would not be fair to students to weigh six weeks worth of learning material equal to the standard 9 weeks of material per quarter. Grades obtained during the six weeks prior to students leaving school should be reduced in weighting in comparison to other quarters, with a pass/fail option implemented for work done during the fourth quarter. First and second quarter should each carry a weight of 40%, and third quarter work would account for the remaining 20%. 

Fourth quarter should be taken pass/fail with opportunities to increase the final grade. The grades calculated under this system of weighting, for both year-long classes and second semester classes, should act as baselines that can be improved with work done during the fourth quarter.

In these unprecedented times, we must look beyond the numbers to put the needs of our students first. What our students need isn’t a rigid system built for the times of old, but humane policies that will allow them to learn free of burdens.