Fairfax County schools parents push back against extension on ‘pass, no mark or letter grade’ option

Kids in public schools around the DMV have just about a month or so to go before this pandemic impacted year comes to an end.

In Fairfax County, public middle and high schools can still choose if they want to get a letter grade or simply be marked that they passed the class for certain courses. 

READ MORE: Fairfax County Schools expand in-person learning to 4 days a week

The school system said the point is to help lessen the stress for some students who have been challenged by this year.

"FCPS did not want to penalize any of our students for their pandemic learning impacts," explained FCPS spokeswoman, Lucy Caldwell via a written statement to FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan.

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According to FCPS, details of the changes for this year include:

Grading policy changes for middle and high school courses  

FCPS developed a series of strategies focused on social and emotional wellness, attendance and engagement, and academics to address the impacts COVID has had on some students. 

We have adopted a series of secondary grading policy changes to help our students with a strong finish to the school year.

We are adjusting our grading policy for SY2020-21 to ensure students are not penalized by the challenges brought to us by pandemic learning. 

Key options for high school students are:

- Use of No Mark (NM) instead of F grades for all courses

- Final Exam flexibility that ensures an exam can only serve to improve a student’s grade for the year

- Allowing students/families  to choose a mark of "P"  (pass) instead of passing letter grades (C’s or D’s, for example) as their final mark in up to two courses  

Key options for middle school students are:

- Use of No Mark (NM) instead of F grades for all courses

- Students receiving a final mark of D / D+ in any course will be assigned a mark assigned  a mark of  "P" (pass) on the report card 

- Allowing students/families  to choose a mark of "P" (pass) instead of passing letter grades (C’s, for example) for any course

FCPS sent out a letter earlier this week, to all middle and high school families with information on an updated deadline for the pass-no mark status form.

Based on feedback, the May 10, 2021 deadline has been extended to allow students and families more time to gain information about fourth quarter progress before making the final decision. 

READ MORE: Prince William County schools plan for fall includes in-person learning 5 days a week

"The email itself was worded a little strangely and almost insulting I think," said FCPS parent Gregory Kinney. 

"It mentioned helping children "finish strong" but changing their ‘D’ into a pass grade does not help the children. That’s not helpful, it certainly may be bailing them out."

One mother who asked to remain anonymous said, "FCPS has just continually lowered the bar all year. I have a senior and a sophomore at McLean High School. The senior is taking classes that he is interested in and he is fairly self-directed. But when FCPS announced the policy that students can’t get less than 50% on anything he really stopped working. He strategizes what assignments are "worth it" to keep his grade up. This is my social, extroverted kid and he is bored."

She went on to say that her sophomore, "Has been neglecting assignments all year, and now I think the NM and P options are rewarding him for not keeping up. More often that not, when I check in on him they are doing nothing in class. And there is no accountability on a daily basis to participate."

According to Karen Aronian, of Aronian Education Design LLC, "The schools really do need to be flexible, they need to understand their full student body and I like that they are attending to it by giving them a possibility with this term," she said.

"I really believe that everyone needs to have a step into some type of education this summer. Giving them grace right now is key. Now kids who performed they’re going to go for the grade and those kids really need it because that’s going to be their catapult for their school of choice."

The deadline for each individual school is based on the internal grading timelines and will be shared directly with each school community.

For FCPS seniors, the new deadline will be on or after May 17, 2021.

For middle school students and students in grades 9 through 11, the new deadline will be on or after June 1, 2021.