DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – One school district is lowering the bar to ensure some students “pass” during a year full of changes and challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, the Douglas County School District announced it would adjust the high school grading scale for the first semester of the school year.

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The new scale will be applied at DCSD’s neighborhood, alternative, and e-learning high schools, except for concurrent enrollment courses.

While typically teachers grade on a 10-point scale, the updated scale is far more lenient.

(credit: CBS)

“Both of my kids were excited to hear about this change,” said Valerie Miller. “I think they felt a little bit of relief.”

Like with many others, the 2020-2021 school year has been a challenge for Miller’s two kids.

Both attend Rock Canyon High School and have recently made the switch from hybrid learning to remote learning to finish the semester.

“Navigating it online is really hard, and then figuring out all the programs they’re using; look here for grades, look here for notes,” Miller said.

Miller’s children aren’t alone in doing their best to keep up with an unprecedented school year.

In a letter to parents explaining the decision, interim DCSD superintendent Corey Wise said principals have raised concern about what they refer to as the “COVID slide,” despite teachers working hard to keep students engaged.

“We feel strongly this decision is the right thing to do for our high school students to ensure that their future plans are not derailed due to a pandemic that is out of their control,” Wise said in the letter.

That feeling is not universal though. CBS4 spoke with three high school teachers who work in the Douglas County School District and strongly disagree with the decision. All three teachers asked to remain anonymous.

“Every teacher I’ve spoken to is offended by it, outraged by it, confused by it,” one teacher said.

The consensus among the three teachers was that they and their colleagues should have had more of a say in the district’s decision to alter the grading scale. The teachers said the gradebook is their domain, and many were already being lenient to in their grading to compensate for the challenging year.

One teacher said they had been curving tests throughout the semester. Another said they allowed test corrections and late assignments for the first time in their career.

“I’ve already taken steps to help students and this is really just trying to placate parents, so kids don’t fail,” one teacher said. “It’s not representative of if kids learn anything.”

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“I don’t understand what message you’re giving kids there,” another teacher said. “They need to feel the satisfaction of having success and the satisfaction of saying, ‘hey I earned this.’”

The teachers also each shared their concern about longer-term effects of the district altering grades more than some teachers already are. One said they worry about students who are struggling in subjects taken sequentially, such as math, now moving on to higher courses without being prepared.

“This is going to make coming out of this take longer and be harder than if they would have trusted us this year,” one teacher said.

Valerie Miller said she would have some similar concerns if the grading scale stayed this way for future semesters. As for the change for this semester, Miller believes the sense of relief and benefit to kids’ mental health is important.

“We’re still encouraging our kids to do the best, but if it helps half of the population of students who are struggling, I think it’s a good thing,” Miller said.

A DCSD spokesperson said the idea to adjust the grading scale started at the high school level.

Later, principals brought it to the interim superintendent, who then made the decision after discussions with other administrators and the Colorado Department of Education.

The district will assess grading for the second semester and keep families and staff updated, interim superintendent Wise said in the letter to families.

Conor McCue