COVID-19 Pass/Fail Grading Initiative for FCPS - Frederick, MD

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COVID-19 Pass/Fail Grading Initiative for FCPS - Frederick, MD

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Shaun KewalRamani started this petition to Frederick County Public Schools Central Office and

Greetings FCPS Central Office and Board of Education:

We are senior students who represent academic and extracurricular leadership and excellence from across Frederick County. As a county, a nation, and a world, we are currently experiencing an ordeal that is new territory for all of us. On behalf of our fellow classmates, we thank each and every individual in Frederick County Public Schools that has had a hand in navigating and facilitating the transition to online school so as to ensure the continuity of learning. With uncertainty looming over the heads of many, it is refreshing to see genuine effort and action coming from our leaders in education.

We understand and appreciate that FCPS values the concerns and perspectives of its students, so we are writing to share our opinions on what we know would be immensely helpful regarding our period of online schooling as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. This outlook is shared between students and parents alike, across all ranges of constituents.

Essentially, we believe that during this period of great turbulence, it is absolutely pivotal that our grading period be made pass/fail. Numerous of the country’s finest institutions have already adopted this necessary switch – in addition to the entirety of North Carolina public schools – because they recognize the multitudinous reasons why a traditional grading scale during these vastly untraditional times is not only inapt, but reproachable.

First of all, there is the obvious concern of inequity. FCPS often purports that ensuring equal opportunity for every student to succeed is a top priority. The fact that we are currently in a period of online schooling in which resources are not readily accessible is therefore grounds for considerable consternation. In our computer science classes, we learn about the digital divide, yet when it comes to actualization, the status quo is exacerbating it. Approximately 28 percent of FCPS students qualify for free and reduced-price meals. These lower-income students, in many cases, do not have access to various software/hardware technology. On March 27th, Tuscarora High School did not have adequate Chromebooks available for distribution. Despite this, the situation was not reassessed until April 1st, three days after distance learning had been implemented. This is why it is critical to adjust the grading system as soon as possible. Even middle-class students may not have access to other specific materials, such as Adobe Photoshop for Photography, or Windows for Microsoft Certification. In general, struggling students (we’ve been them, and we’ve tutored them) often depend on after-school tutoring or other in-person resources while lacking online outlets, which they will not be able to take advantage of during this period. Even with these deprivations, students are still being graded as if they have equal access to the necessary resources. FCPS may be distributing technology, but grades will reflect the period in which they’ve lacked these resources. These problems are systemic. They need to be addressed with a paradigm shift, not superficial symptom relief.

This problem is magnified when one takes into account familial situations. As you certainly have been experiencing yourselves, there has been so much added stress due to the situation imposed by COVID-19. Many of us have parents who are working and younger siblings stuck at home with no additional assistance. We are expected to care for these little siblings, who also have their own online school assignments, taking up much of our time. Additionally, stresses due to immunocompromised family members are also a cause for concern. On the home front, several students and staff members are caring for loved ones who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19. This results in students taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of their families on top of the pre-existing stress of completing assignments in an efficient and timely manner. It doesn’t help that, though FCPS has determined that students should work on one standard-level class for no more than 45 minutes per day, several teachers have been assigning more work than during the regular school year. Students with these additional stresses would benefit from a grading system that does not arbitrarily / rigorously rank their performance, but instead rewards their due diligence, especially during such a trying time. It would speak volumes if FCPS made the necessary accommodation to help students with their mental health. Within our generation, this has been a prevalent concern that many of us have felt that FCPS has periodically ignored or at least partially discarded. Though there certainly have been concerted attempts, this would be a perfect opportunity to demonstrate that the Central Office / the Board of Education truly does care.

For several years, FCPS students have had the option to take courses through the Frederick County Virtual School in order to fulfill graduation requirements that cannot be met elsewhere. Students who elect to take these courses are informed by the instructors as well as their high school staff that self-motivation and excellent time-management are required for success. As some of us are current or former students of FCVS, we can certify that this is true. Students are required to hold themselves accountable, keep track of daily and missing assignments, and keep up with a timeline that is sometimes shorter than the FCPS semester. Due to the great responsibility required for these courses, some students are discouraged from taking them, and those enrolled are aware of the risks.

Though the current situation and FCVS are both online-based, there are dramatic differences that separate the two. The most apparent is that no student, teacher, administrator, support staff member, or parent signed up for the situation at hand. The students that might not be able to have the most success in a virtual course are now without other options, and could fall behind. Another difference is that coursework in the FCVS interfaces is usually pre-made and delineated clearly, while the coursework that each individual teacher is creating as the week goes on is sometimes ambiguous and not cohesive to the previous in-class instruction. 

We sincerely hope that you will not misconstrue our request as disrespectful or ignorant to the wonderful work that so many FCPS staff members are doing. All of us are seniors who have been a proud part of Frederick County Public Schools since elementary school! We have been shown excellent guidance from teachers, staff, administrators, and more – and we thank you for this. We are tremendously grateful to FCPS for helping us grow over the years, cultivating our work ethic such that we have been accepted into schools such as the University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Cornell, Duke, Georgetown, USC, Stanford, UC Berkeley, and more. You continuously achieve your goal of making “every student… an empowered learner and an engaged citizen to achieve a positive impact in the local and global community.” From learning what FCPS has taught us, we desire to make that positive impact in our local community; we believe that it is crucial to act now. The decisions that the Central Office / the Board of Education make now will influence not only the lives of everyone within FCPS, but also the perceptions that our community will hold regarding our school system for decades to come. Of course, another option is merely waiting for Maryland state policy to be enacted; however, this has been a slow and ineffectual trend. FCPS can stand out by presenting itself as a progressive force. Please, in these troubled times, choose to recognize the gravity of our situation and adjust accordingly. Please choose courageous empathy over hesitant complacency.

Please support Pass/Fail Grading for Frederick County Public Schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year.

Very Respectfully,

Shaun KewalRamani - Urbana High School Rank 1 / Necktie Club President / Future Business Leaders of America Co-President / Science Olympiad Captain / Economic Policy Challenge Captain

Haley Livingston - Tuscarora High School Rank 1 / Senior Class President / National Honor Society Parliamentarian / National Math Honor Society Secretary 

Louis Hu - Middletown High School Rank 1 / National Honor Society President / Future Business Leaders of America Officer / Middletown High School Varsity Boys’ Swimming Captain

Serena Shirsekar - Middletown High School Rank 2 / Student Government Association President / Key Club Recording Secretary / Middletown High School Varsity Girls’ Swimming Captain

Zoe Assasie - Urbana High School Student Government Association President / Frederick County Association of Student Councils Parliamentarian / French Club Vice-President 

Ahmed Khan - Tuscarora High School Rank 3 / Senior Class Vice-President / National Math Honor Society Vice-President

Jack Walker - Urbana High School Senior Class Vice-President / National Honor Society Vice-President / Helping Hands of Urbana Vice-President

Christopher Pondoc - Frederick High School Rank 2 / National Honor Society President / National Math Honor Society President / National Computer Science Honor Society President

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