Marble Falls ISD superintendent changes his mind on GPA and class rank calculations during pandemic

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MARBLE FALLS, Texas (KXAN) — After listening to the concerns of students and parents at a meeting Tuesday night, the superintendent of the Marble Fall Independent School District told the crowd he has changed his mind, and that high school students’ grades during the COVID-19 pandemic should count toward their class rank and overall grade point average.

Superintendent Dr. Chris Allen told KXAN after the meeting it was a data-based decision, and that the district had been analyzing the numbers under different scenarios to see the impact. The original plan, communicated to families after the school year ended, was to use third quarter grades instead of the fourth quarter grades, when remote learning was happening.

“There was virtually no impact on rank,” said Dr. Allen. “It’s not exact, but it’s so similar and does nothing to change the outcome.”

Dr. Allen also said he wants to validate the efforts of lots of students who continued working hard to succeed during remote learning — not just the one teen KXAN spoke to Monday.

Students and parents frustrated with the delay

15-year-old Zoe Stedman, who got sick with the novel coronavirus and recovered, was one of the first to speak up to the administration. The rising high school junior emailed a letter to the school board and her Marble Falls High School principal explaining why she felt fourth quarter grades should count after she said she worked tirelessly while sick to complete all of her assignments on time.

She was extremely relieved after the meeting Tuesday night, which she said started off tense before both sides were able to share their side.

“I’m really glad that they looked more into it and I’m really glad it helped changed their minds,” said Stedman.

Jon Burk, who will be a senior next year at Marble Falls High School is also be happy to hear the news. He told KXAN when the physical campus closed during the pandemic, he did not want to let the grades he had been working so hard for slip away. He said he did not have WiFi at his house, so he packed a lunch every day, took his mom’s Toyota Corolla to the high school parking lot and sat there Monday through Thursday for six to eight hours to complete schoolwork.

Burk said he was crushed at the end of the year when he found out his fourth quarter grades were not going to count because they were the strongest grades of his entire high school career.

“That was just so disappointing because that meant that not only my hard work was flushed down the drain, but so was my teachers’ [hard work] who worked with me to help me achieve those grades,” said Burk.

Timing of the grading decision

While many Texas school districts set COVID-19 grading and GPA plans high school students in April, the Marble Falls ISD school board passed a resolution on May 18 to use third quarter grades instead of fourth quarter grades toward class rank and GPA.

Parents and students said they were never told the plan, and found out when the superintendent spelled it out in an email to parents two weeks later on June 1 — after the school year ended, and on the same day as the high school graduation ceremony.

In terms of why the district waited so long, the superintendent and school board president said it wanted as much information as possible before making a decision, and wanted to take into account the large percentage of low income families in the district who may have been at a disadvantage and struggling during the pandemic to keep up with virtual course work due to lack of technology and basic needs like food.

“Administration worked tirelessly to research, calculate, and put a plan together that would be equitable for all children in the ISD…the timing of this decision came as quickly as was possible in the environment we were facing,” said board president Kevin Naumann in a statement.

Dr. Allen said he will be making the new recommendation to the school board at the next meeting on June 15.

Allen also praised his district for how fast it responded to changes brought on the by the pandemic to get support in place for families such as free meals, technology and pop-up WiFi spots around town.

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