The V.I. Board of Education is opposing recent changes made to the 2019-20 school year, insisting the Education Department’s plan for grading students during the COVID-19 pandemic is a “misinterpretation” of the board’s emergency guidelines.
On Friday, Board Chairperson Arah Lockhart penned a letter to V.I. Education Commissioner Racquel Berry-Benjamin, urging her to “immediately revisit” the plan, which Lockhart said actually lowers student achievement and creates an “inherently unfair process.”
The plan, announced last week by Berry-Benjamin, involves a restructuring of the 2019-20 school year to three marking periods instead of four, meaning students’ overall final averages will be calculated using only three marking periods.
This was done primarily to overcome disruptions to the fourth-marking period — which is March 23 to June 4. All public schools in the territory closed on March 17 as a result of COVID-19 and students have been working remotely ever since, with many not having the resources to do so.
While a fourth marking period continues remotely, Berry-Benjamin said it will serve merely “to enhance” the grade point average of a student who is already passing.
Here’s the rub, however.
As part of the plan, high school students who earned a failing grade — less than 70% — in their third marking period, will have the opportunity to “replace” that grade with a passing grade achieved in the fourth marking period.
Elementary school students can go one step further and use a passing grade in the fourth marking period to replace a failing grade from the third, second or first marking periods.
For Lockhart, this replacement of grades “contravenes the letter and spirit” of Resolution No. 001/2020, the measure passed by the board which effectively suspends its promotion and retention policies amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The intent of the resolution has always been to allow the post-March 17th remote instructional period to serve only as a possible enhancement of a student’s third marking period average.,” Lockhart wrote. “Moreover, the purpose of the resolution, as stated in the preamble, is to ‘ensure that absences relating to COVID-19 do not negatively impact student achievement or the ability of any student with the potential for promotion to be promoted to the next grade.’”
Lockhart continued, “the department’s interpretation has the unintended consequence of lowering student achievement and creates an inherently unfair process that disadvantages students who have relied on one standard of achievement to now have the goal post moved. The board is also concerned of the impact of this plan on the Valedictorian and Salutatorian selection.”
Lockhart added that a revamping of the plan will “minimize any hard feelings and/or misunderstandings when semester grades are finalized.”
The Education Department has provided no public response yet to Lockhart’s letter.