MANHATTAN (CN) — Nearly two months out of school to squelch the spread of Covid-19, over a million New York City students will no longer be held to the grading system they began the year with, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.
“I wish they weren’t going through everything they’re experiencing in the pandemic, but they are, and it’s hurting them. It’s in some cases traumatizing them,” de Blasio said in his daily press conference.
“Some kids have already seen so much just in the last weeks, the losses in their own family, in their own schools. They’re tough kids, New York City kids, and they’re going to find a way through, but we have to be there for them. We really have to understand how much they’ve experienced, how much pain they’re going through.”
Public school students from kindergarten through fifth grade will now receive only marks of “meeting standards” or “needs improvement,” de Blasio announced. Middle-schoolers will be graded as either “meets standards,” “needs improvement” or “course in progress,” meaning they may need some extra time to finish the class.
New York City’s high school students will be graded on existing scales, but they will be given a pass-fail option if they don’t like their letter grade, to shield any effect on their grade point averages.
The city has faced criticism for the slow rollout of electronics to families in need. Many students don’t have internet or technology access and haven’t been able to participate in remote learning. About 1 in 10 New York City public school students was experiencing homelessness as of last fall, according to the private group Advocates for Children, which voiced disappointment in Tuesday’s policy change.
“Thousands of students have had to wait weeks to receive a remote learning device from the DOE; they should not be punished for falling behind simply because their family cannot afford a computer, high-speed internet access, or the other resources necessary to rapidly transition to online schooling,” Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children, said in an emailed statement Tuesday.
Sweet called for an “intensive” support structure and a long-term plan that would not leave behind the students who have more difficulty with online learning, as well as allowing students more time to complete their degrees.
Students whose academic records this semester will reflect that they “need improvement” will be those who are already marginalized and hit hard by Covid-19, Sweet noted — “students whose parents are not proficient in the English language or who have low digital literacy; students who are living in homeless shelters or overcrowded apartments and lack a quiet spot to study; students whose days are now spent caring for younger siblings or ill family members; and students who are not receiving the same special education supports and services they typically receive at school.”
The United Federation of Teachers, a union that represents most public school teachers in New York City, worked with New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza on the new plan and helped connect the Department of Education with groups of parents, spokeswoman Alison Gendar said in an email Tuesday.
“We needed a grading policy that captures the work students have done this year, both in the classroom and during distance learning, while not punishing students for things outside of their control,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in a statement Tuesday. “We think this policy strikes that balance by incorporating the concerns of parents, teachers and stakeholders.”
About 16% of students in the city have not been showing up for remote-learning sessions, according to the education news site Chalkbeat, which also reported an estimate from education department leaders that about 300,000 students in the public school system didn’t have a device they could use to get online.
De Blasio said Tuesday those devices are on the way, noting that 247,000 iPads have either arrived at students’ homes or are being shipped “as we speak.”
Some education advocates and local officials have pushed for the grading changes in recent weeks. Carranza, the schools chancellor, spearheaded the new policy, de Blasio said.
“I want to be very clear that school has been in session, we have never stopped being in session,” Carranza said in the press conference Tuesday, later adding: “We have to craft the policy that recognizes the trauma … yet still provides for a path forward for our students.”
More than 120,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling on Georgia’s Department of Education to void all fourth-quarter grades. In Los Angeles, no student will receive a failing grade this spring, officials announced earlier this month.
De Blasio also assured the city’s high school seniors Tuesday that their virtual graduation in June would include some “very special guests” and be a citywide celebration of their hard work.
“We’re going to give you something you will remember for the rest of your life,” he said.
While schools will likely not reopen for the foreseeable future, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out more metrics Tuesday at his own press conference in Syracuse for reopening parts of the state.
Hospitals and ICUs may not be over 70% full, he said. Businesses will open in a staggered fashion, with construction and manufacturing coming first, if they have plans to protect their workers from infection. Transmission rates must be below the “outbreak” level of 1.1, when each person infects more than one other.
Cuomo also said there must be 30 contact tracers for every 100,000 people, and isolation rooms such as hotels must be available for those infected. Testing must be widely available, accessible and well-advertised. Each region should be monitored by a “control room” that “hits the danger button” if data show the reopening isn’t happening safely.
Much of upstate New York has relatively low infection rates that match those in the Midwest and West, Cuomo said, indicating they will open earlier than New York City and its suburbs.
In a Monday night interview with Axios on HBO, Cuomo said he wished he had acted earlier to protect New Yorkers from the virus.
“I wish someone stood up and blew the bugle. And if no one was going to blow the bugle, I would feel much better if I was a bugle blower last December and January,” he said.
But on Tuesday, Cuomo shifted that blame.
“Where was the whole international health community?” he asked Tuesday afternoon. He added that federal agencies had been absent and falsely suggested the press failed for months to report on the virus.
New York state has a staggering 400,000 unemployment claims. Cuomo has frequently downplayed the issue, saying people would not lose any money as a result of their late checks.