Report cards

Middle and high school students in Sun Prairie won’t be showing off letter grades on their report cards this summer because of a decision to change to pass/no pass grades.

A decision to go to pass/fail grades at Sun Prairie High School has left some parents upset with the Sun Prairie School Board and pleading with board members to change the decision.

“As we learn together about the best practices for distance learning, we will need to change our grading practices in order to protect the academic progress and advancement of all students. In order to preserve credit attainment and minimize any negative impact on students’ GPAs without impacting graduation requirements, we will be moving to a pass/no pass grading model,” states a letter to parents emailed on Tuesday, March 31.

“This is a shift that many districts and even some colleges are making at this time given the novelty of distance learning for teachers, students, and families,” the letter reads.

“You most likely have many questions about what this shift means and how it will impact your child’s classes,” the letter from SPHS Principal Keith Nerby and associate principals Chad Whalley and Heidi Walter reads.

In order to pass, a student has met or exceeded minimum proficiency for identified essential learning targets (standards). To fail (what the letter refers to as “No Pass”), a student has not met minimum proficiency levels for identified essential learning targets (standards). “Every effort has been made to ensure students have received feedback and opportunity to demonstrate mastery of standards,” the letter reads.

The letter also states all second semester grades for students in grades 8-12 will move to pass/no pass at this time, including 3rd quarter grades.

Grade Point Averages (GPAs) will freeze as they stand from the first semester.

“For seniors, the 7th semester, as shown on transcripts, will be utilized to determine class rank,” the letter states. “A notification letter will be sent to any colleges or schools if needed. We will not hold final exams for any classes this year.”

The decision has already prompted swift reaction, both on Facebook and in correspondence with the Sun Prairie School Board.

“This decision will negatively impact students and families for years to come,” wrote parent Darrin Schmitz in a letter to the Sun Prairie School Board which was copied to the Sun Prairie Star.

“I understand the difficulties of managing the school through the COVID-19 crisis, but this decision will devastate so many kids and families who rely on a specific GPA to either gain entrance to college or attain scholarship funds for continuing their education,” Schmitz added.

“We are just 8 days away from the end of the third quarter. Just 8 days! Adjust the GPAs at the end of the third quarter, and after that adjustment then freeze the GPAs if needed for the final quarter,” Schmitz suggested.

“By freezing the current GPA, you will be freezing kids out of a college or the university they desire to attend,” Schmitz added, “and for many kids a scholarship or grant will determine where and if they will go to college.

“So many kids who have worked their butts off to build a better future for themselves,” Schmitz said, “and by moving to a pass/fail model with just 8 days left in the quarter the school administration and school board is failing them.”

Student Isabella Wineke posted her opposition as a direct response to someone on the “Sun Prairie Can We Talk” Facebook page: “I am currently a Junior at SPHS, and I am not happy with this decision at all. Although I do understand why this has to happen, what’s to say that I achieved an A in the class vs. a D-? I do recognize that colleges know about COVID-19 when going through admissions, but there could have been many other ways the Sun Prairie District approached this decision. It was sudden and drastic.”

Parent Kent Disch agreed with Schmitz in his Facebook post. “My freshman, who is establishing his GPA and who spent 3rd quarter busting his butt to take his GPA even higher will now get the same grade as a kid who had a D-? This is wrong. It is also a signal to all the kids that 4th quarter is a complete blow off. Why work hard if you know all you need is a D-? This is shameful.”

Facebooker Kaela Rahaman took a different view.

“The reason this is happening is likely because most teachers, in order to ‘online teach,’ actually require certification. This is untouched territory for a lot of us,” Rahaman said. “I’m sure this is partly for the teachers as well — we can’t teach hands-on lessons that require group work, models, etc. virtually. It’s unfair to everyone involved. A student shouldn’t suffer from a bad grade due to unforeseen circumstances like a pandemic, loss of instructional time, limited access to internet, or a teacher who is just as confused and concerned as you are.”

Facebook respondent Jodi Weber Scherer questioned the timing: “I figured this is where it was going to end up with pass/fail but why announce with 2 1/2 months left in the school year?” she asked. “I imagine the majority of kids will lose quite a bit of motivation. Maybe if they would have held off announcing the pass/fail part we could have gotten the majority of kids to try hard and continue to learn in these most difficult times.”

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