MARBLE FALLS, Texas (KXAN) — High school graduation is a done deal at Marble Falls High School. Students carried on the tradition of receiving their diplomas in full caps and gowns on the football field Friday, June 1. Social distancing measures were in place as fireworks lit up the night sky to mark the big accomplishment.
Now, in the days following, soon-to-be high school junior Zoe Stedman is raising questions about why the Marble Falls Independent School District waited so long to decide and communicate with students and parents that fourth quarter grades for high school students would not count toward their overall grade point average.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself, especially when I was sick because I didn’t want to get behind,” said Zoe.
The 15-year-old contracted the novel coronavirus on May 3, after her mom and dad both had the virus, according to Zoe’s mother Amy Stedman.
Amy said her daughter, who’s top two college choices are Stanford University and the University of Texas, never missed a class assignment because she did not want her grades or GPA to suffer.
“She was like, ‘Mom I’ve got to get up, I’ve got to do some homework,’ and I said, ‘Absolutely not. You are so sick,'” said Amy.
Amy said she found out from a teacher after the school year ended, that the district decided fourth quarter grades were not going to count toward GPA. The teacher indicated she was told not to say anything to parents or students during the last quarter while remote learning was happening, according to Amy.
Zoe said up until that time, students were told the grades would count.
“I was devastated, my daughter was devastated,” said Amy. “We were so sick, so sick. I was sick trying to take care of a little girl who had the COVID.”
MFISD Superintendent Dr. Chris Allen told KXAN the school board made the decision on May 18, even though many districts set their policies in April. He said the district waited to make sure it had as much information as possible.
He emailed the following message to parents on June 1 — two weeks later — after the school year ended, and on the day of high school graduation:
During the May 18 meeting of the Board of Trustees, the Marble Falls ISD Board approved the administration’s recommendation to change policy regarding the way in which the high school calculates class rank (rank) and GPA. For the purposes of calculating rank/GPA for the Spring 2020 semester, the school will use the 3rd quarter grade for students in grades 9-11 during the 2019-2020 school year (this policy has no affect on the graduating class of 2020). The 4th quarter grade for the Spring 2020 semester is only used to help determine awarding of course credit.
This policy change was recommended for the following reasons:
1. During the time of school closure due to COVID-19, a much higher degree of inequity existed than normal. During the closure, we had several students and families facing increased struggle with the following:
-Lack of child care
-Limited access to social support services
-Similar and related issues
2. Some students who needed to earn extra money to support households took extra shift and worked longer hours to do so.
3. Many students were not only trying to accomplish school assignments, but also serve as the primary source of childcare to younger siblings.
4. The ability to monitor who was actually completing the assigned school work was greatly diminished.
5. We had numerous parents reporting that their students were feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the assigned work and pressure of unstable home environments.
6. We had many parents voicing concerns about their inability to support their child academically/social-emotionally/financially, etc.
This list could go on, but for many, the COVID-19 closure created much greater barriers to learning than usual. Barriers to learning always exists, but our teachers/coaches/sponsors/ do amazing work to help young people overcome barriers and be successful. During the closure, the school’s ability to have the constant contact with students was dramatically interrupted and inequities were exacerbated.
Many of our students thrived during remote learning. Some of those with the time, internet access, and other forms of academic/social infrastructure tended to fair much better during the school closure. So administration was caught in a situation that required us to think through a very complicated and historic event that increased disparity. To that end, we adopted a “do no harm” approach. We knew that school was “normal” through the 3rd quarter and “abnormal” after that. Given that reality, we recommended calculating rank/GPA on grades acquired during the time of the “normal”. In addition, we implemented a plan that would use 4th quarter grades to help kids attain credit for courses if applicable. In this way, grades earned during the 4th quarter could help students earn credit while also doing no harm to the rank/GPA standing earned during school as usual.
I know this is a complicated matter to explain and want to encourage you to call the high school administration if you have any questions.
Dr. Chris Allen
Marble Falls ISD
Amy said the letter was sent to parents after she called the superintendent to express her concerns with the decision, and lack of communication. She and Zoe believe students should be able to decide it they want their fourth quarter grades to count toward their overall GPA, or use their third quarter grades.
“I think it’s really important that the kids who worked really hard get their grades because nobody told us [they wouldn’t count],” said Zoe. “They wanted us to work and so we did, and we didn’t get our grades for that.”
Zoe said she sent the following letter to every MFISD school board member and the high school principal:
So far, Zoe said the board president is the only one who has responded and thanked her for speaking up.
Even though the school year has ended, and high school graduation is complete, Dr. Allen said the district is being responsive and listening to the concerns of parents.
“We are actively right now running data that includes a number of different scenarios that calculates rank and GPA… if we have to make an adjustment based on what’s in the best interest of students, we will make that adjustment,” said Dr. Allen.
Dr. Allen said he is meeting with concerned parents, including Amy Stedman, Tuesday night.
He acknowledged that other school districts communicated with families sooner regarding their policies for GPA’s during the COVID-19 closures, but said those districts had that determination from their boards earlier.
Marble Falls ISD School Board President Kevin Naumann sent the following statement to KXAN on behalf of the entire school board:
Everything we do at Marble Falls ISD revolves around our ability to best ‘love every child and inspire them to achieve their fullest potential’. The word “every” in that statement is intentional and powerful.
In the case of determining which grades would or would not count toward GPA in the 4th quarter, our Administration worked tirelessly to research, calculate, and put a plan together that would be equitable for all children in the ISD. As you are aware, we have recently faced extraordinary challenges with the response to COVID19. With essentially zero time to prepare or troubleshoot, we have asked our teachers, staff, and administrators to completely re-design the learning environment, ensure that social and emotional supports remain intact, our children remained fed, and a variety of other objectives. They have performed exceptionally well and have shown, once again, that they are committed to loving kids unconditionally.
The timing of this decision came as quickly as was possible in the environment we were facing. There was no ulterior motive. The decision was made in an effort to provide stability for the children who have faced extreme challenges over the last few months. We understand that some families were able to quickly adapt to the new environment and have excelled during this time. We are exploring opportunities to help ensure that those children are rewarded for the hard work they have displayed.