Failing grades triggers new policy at NCS

More than 60 percent of Nixyaawii students have one or more incomplete

By Wil Phinney of the CUJ

MISSION – With nearly seven out of 10 students with one or more F’s after the first quarter, Nixyaawii Community School (NCS) is adopting a new grading policy for its Comprehensive Distance Learning.

Many students just aren’t achieving in an on-line classroom, NCS Principal Ryan Heinrich said.

“It’s happening everywhere, not just at Nixyaawii,” Heinrich said.

The Pendleton School District in October also adopted a new grading policy that is actually more lenient than Nixyaawii’s.

NCS kept their standard grading policy, which gives a passing grade of D for scores of 60 percent or higher. Pendleton has adopted a plan that will allow 49 percent to be a passing grade.

There are a number of reasons why students may be failing classes.

“For some it might be access to the internet or not having a quiet place to work. They may be dealing with other stuff at home that they wouldn’t have to if they were in the building,” Heinrich said.

In some cases, students just aren’t sitting down at the computer for classes. Heinrich noted that he knows of some students who are busy at home watching younger siblings while parents are at work or away.

Heinrich said he thinks some students perhaps think grades will be adjusted like they were last spring when everyone received a pass.

“I think some kids are still hoping to pass for being here and that’s not what’s going to happen,” Heinrich said.

The freshmen class of 16 students is in the worst shape.

“We have some kids that did not receive any credits this last quarter and that’s never happened before,” Heinrich said. “The freshmen have struggled and many are already on track not to graduate after just one quarter. That happens every year. Freshmen struggle to start the year, but without our thumb on them here at the school helping them move along it’s even worse.”

How do students end up with an F?

“It’s based on not turning in assignments, not participating in class, not completing projects, not turning in tests,” Heinrich said.

The new grading policy will turn an F into an “incomplete” and students will have 12 weeks to achieve a pass and earn credits toward graduation.

Heinrich said “everyone is doing the best they can to make this work and we continue to find ways to support our students and families.”

Toward that goal, the policy states, teachers will provide opportunities for students to “redo, makeup, or try again to complete, show progress or attempt to complete work without penalty.”

Until they make up credits, students will be ineligible for sports and other activities.

“If they don’t complete the class they’ll probably end up retaking the class at another time to get the credits and that could affect graduation,” he said. “There are only so many classes in a quarter to get their credits.”

At a recent Nixyaawii School Board meeting, Corinne Sams noted the social and emotional impact that’s been placed on students since the pandemic began.

“It’s bigger than any of us imagined,” she said.

In a CDL Grading Police handout to Board members, Heinrich wrote that, “Although we have adjusted somewhat we are still in a crisis/pandemic. CDL is lasting longer than expected and hoped for and we did not know what we did not know when this started in September.”

According to the handout, traditional grading practices are “not appropriate to equitably and accurately capture and record student learning.”

Families are overwhelmed more now than ever before and “we need to manage the workload given the current stress states for all of us.”
A set of guiding principles states that the resources and support students have access to are not equitable.

“We currently have no way to ensure all students are on equal ground” with things like internet access, internet access outside of live instruction, parental supervision and support, and adequate physical location to do work.

The grading policy applies to all courses and classes, but it strives to “hold student harmless for CDL, which is beyond the control of our staff, students and families.”

The NCS staff, during conversations about the policy, have talked about the situation for students as well as circumstances for teachers.

“This is not business as usual. Just as our teaching looks very different, our grading needs to be different, too,” is one of the staff conversation points. The policy – giving students the chance to complete courses for credits – “focuses on easing staff, student, and family stress during an already stressful situation.”

Meanwhile, NCS continues to offer a “day camp” for students where they can have more structure in classes supervised by a paraprofessional.

The day camp was initially limited by statewide COVID regulations to groups of no more than 10 students.

“At first we had one group in the lobby and one group in the gym with as many as 15 kids. But in the last two weeks we’ve had no more than four a day,” Heinrich said.

On Nov. 2, statewide guidelines were relaxed so that a cohort can be up to 20 students at a time.

“We could have cohorts in the lobby, in the gym and in a classroom. Realistically, we could have 60 kids if they wanted to be here,” Heinrich said.

In addition to day camp, teachers are available in person from 1:30-3:30 daily.

Students have been taking advantage of that opportunity and Heinrich is hoping more will do so now that the student limit has doubled from 10 to 20.

During those two hours in the afternoons, students can visit any of the five NCS teachers and other staff, with one teacher, Zach Brandsen, available on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Teachers have developed a “facilitated learning” process in which each lesson has no more than two assignments – one being a participation assignment/grade to give credit for attending the online classes. Participation may include logging in and viewing lessons and/or completing some evidence showing they viewed the lesson.

Assignments and assessments, the grading policy states, are being prioritized to the essential core content standards.