Clear Creek ISD board of trustees addresses parent concern with pass-fail grading system at special meeting

Clear Creek ISD modified its grading system for the spring semester after making the switch to remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Clear Creek ISD modified its grading system for the spring semester after making the switch to remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Clear Creek ISD modified its grading system for the spring semester after making the switch to remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Clear Creek ISD administrators addressed points of contention related to the district’s recently adopted spring 2020 pass-fail grading policy at a special meeting of the board of trustees April 20.

At the meeting, which was held via videoconference, district administrators provided several slides of materials meant to answer questions about the grading policy. The grading system was modified at an April 6 special meeting after CCISD and districts across the state switched to remote learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The policy takes the district through the end of May, meaning the pass-fail system or any other modifications are not expected to continue into next school year. No resolutions or other actions were taken to modify the pass-fail system at the April 20 meeting, which lasted approximately two hours.

While several parents wrote in to express support for the pass-fail system, twice as many pieces of public comment came from dissatisfied parents of students who felt disenfranchised by the policy change.

“Why can’t the board consider a system that benefits every child?” read a submitted comment from Elizabeth Webb. “They are out there.”

Numerous other area ISDs are adopting modified grading policies that do not default to a pass-fail system, according to a comment submission from CCISD parent Emily Edmonds. Several parents wrote in with similar comments, and others added the information on CCISD’s website about how a pass-fail system affects class rank is misleading.

Lisa Matus wrote in to ask the board to address the online petition she started, which has been signed by more than 600 people, to urge board members not to mandate a pass-fail system. One comment on the petition reads: “I worked hard to bring my grades up this semester and the district is telling I, and every other hard-working student, that our work was for nothing.”

Material presented at the meeting included a look at the advantages and disadvantages of the current pass-fail system, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of including grades for the third nine weeks in students’ GPA and class rank. A pass-fail system remains the most equitable choice, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Karen Engle said during the meeting.

Other advantages to the pass-fail system, as defined by the materials presented at the April 20 meeting, include a focus on learning and quality of student work. With this system, the third and fourth nine weeks’ grades are used to award course credit, and the second semester’s work can be used to determine a yearlong average if needed.

Disadvantages, as defined by the materials presented, include no numeric grades being visible on the second-semester transcript and the subsequent lack of incentive for students. Administrators and board members said during the meeting that grades are not, and should not be, the only important factor when it comes to defining student success.

Dava West, director of guidance and counseling, said even elite colleges are not basing their admissions decisions solely on a student’s academic performance.

“Overall it’s just one little piece of the puzzle,” she said during the meeting. “Our very elite colleges specifically say ... they may calculate their own GPA anyway.”

Admission decisions are instead based on what a student’s interests and passions are, what kind of leadership they have shown in their communities and what they have accomplished aside from their grades, she said. Texas A&M University is finalizing its stance on how grades from this semester will be interpreted, West said, according to communication she has had with the university’s admissions office.

Trustee Jennifer Broddle, who has a son going through the college admission process, agreed with West and added students should be encouraged to worry about changing the world around them, not maintaining their GPAs, amid the pandemic.

Superintendent Greg Smith said there will potentially be an opportunity for board members to vote on resolutions adapting the grading policy at the next regular meeting, which is April 28.

By Colleen Ferguson

Reporter, Bay Area

A native central New Yorker, Colleen worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact Newspaper before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. She covers public education, higher education, business and development news in southeast Houston. Colleen graduated in 2019 from Syracuse University and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, where she worked for the university's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange. Her degrees are in journalism and Spanish language and culture. When not chasing a story, Colleen can be found petting cats and dogs, listening to podcasts, swimming or watching true crime documentaries.