Cambridge middle and high school students will be graded on a pass/fail grading system during the COVID-19 school closures.

The Cambridge School Board voted to use a new grading scale at an April 2 virtual School Board meeting.

Keith Schneider, the district’s curriculum and instruction director and high school principal, said the standard grading scale could be unfair to students.

“We have to think about the equity lens while our kids are away from us,” Schneider said.

Not instituting a pass/fail system could negatively impact students who may not have reliable technology or internet access, students with special education needs and seniors applying for colleges and scholarships, Schneider said.

With a pass/fail grading system, “we basically freeze their GPA and class rank,” Schneider said.

Cambridge students “are keenly aware of where they sit academically,” he continued.

The conversation appeared in front of the School Board because a pass/fail grading system varied from the district’s existing grading policy.

The pass/fail scale will be used at Nikolay Middle School and Cambridge High School. The elementary school uses a standards-based grading scale, which will still be usable during the pandemic, Schneider said.

Board treasurer Mike Huffman asked Schneider how long this grading scale would last, and whether it would run through the end of the year.

Schneider responded that it depends on how long schools are closed. As long as schools are closed, Schneider said they would grade pass/fail. There’s a chance Cambridge would continue using the pass/fail system through the end of the school year, even if students return to school, Schneider said.

Schneider added that many other districts in Dane County are also moving to pass/fail scales.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Schneider said.

Huffman also asked how administrators plan to keep students engaged in remote learning, if students only have to earn a passing grade to receive credit.

Schneider said the responsibility of staying motivated does fall to students to make good choices.

“I think we’re going to have that battle just like we have that battle face-to-face,” Schneider said.

“The plan has always been to ease into it,” Schneider said. “Less is more” when it comes to distance learning, he added.

Busing contract

In other matters, the School Board is continuing to negotiate its busing contract with Go Riteway Transportation, the district’s bus company, for altering services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company approached the district to renegotiate its contract, to be able to continue paying employees and operate during the school closures.

The board voted to let its transportation committee finalize negotiations with Go Riteway.

The transportation committee was recommending paying 80 percent of its routes, for a total of about $84,000.

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