The Provincetown Public Schools and the Cape Cod Lighthouse Charter School in Harwich both have middle school programs, but they have taken different approaches to grading since the schools were shut down in March.
Both schools have the same primary goal, to protect students’ well-being in a pandemic.
But Provincetown has maintained its system of grades, while Lighthouse switched to a credit-noncredit assessment method.
“We must take care of the social and emotional health of our kids,” said Paul Niles, Lighthouse’s executive director.
The charter school’s move away from grades is also being used by the Nauset Regional School District. But Provincetown administrators stand by their plan.
“Our mantra is our school building is closed but school is open,” said Provincetown Principal Timothy Reynolds. “This is a third of our school year, so if we want them moving forward, they have to be engaged. So we are grading.”
Lighthouse students must complete and pass 70 percent of their assignments to receive credit for their third trimester, which began March 13. The school has established multiple safety nets for students in difficult circumstances.
If a student has not done 70 percent of the assigned work, that triggers an administrative review, in which teachers come up with a plan to get the student over the hump.
“Maybe it’s summer work, maybe we sit down and look at the work the student did and the circumstances they were under and say, you know what, this was enough, we can give them a credit,” Niles said.
One reason for the school’s forgiving system is its special needs students. Out of 240 total students at Lighthouse, about 100 need special direction or extra contact, Niles said.
About 50 students are on an individualized education plan.
Provincetown deals with similar demographics and shares the goal of accommodating every student’s unique circumstances, but it is using grades for middle schoolers as a way to connect with students and ensure participation.
Provincetown’s International Baccalaureate program assesses work on a scale from one, the worst, to seven, the best.
“We found, when we implemented this for our middle years program, student participation and efforts did increase,” said Reynolds.
The school has made tweaks to accommodate for virtual learning, a major one being that students will automatically receive a five for attendance, and a five for completing work.
Students can get on the honor roll with a five or higher, so by just showing up and submitting work, they will be honor students.
“It has been working amazingly well for some kids,” said English teacher Amy Rokicki. “Some kids have really kicked in. They love it, and are doing every assignment really well.”
About 62 percent of the school’s students are “high needs” — meaning they have a combination of economic, language, and learning issues — and 35 percent are classified as economically disadvantaged, according to the state Dept. of Education.
“A number of our students have significant responsibilities, caring for as many as three younger siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc., daily while parents are at work, mostly in food service and health-care roles,” Rokicki said.
Provincetown Supt. Suzanne Scallion told her teachers that she is most concerned about the high-risk kids, and that a driving factor for continued grading is to give those kids an incentive to keep coming to school and growing as students.
Cape Cod Regional Technical High School has developed a hybrid grading system, encouraging students to perform well while not punishing them for circumstances out of their control, said Principal Billy Terranova.
The school is assigning grades of either A+, A, or B to assignments, but still giving a credit/noncredit mark at the end of the semester.
That way, students have the option to incorporate certain grades into their overall GPA if they choose.
Chris Ellssaser, principal of Nauset Regional High School, is going with the credit, no credit model.
“With GPAs and all of that, colleges will look at this as an anomaly,” he said.