Dear Casady Families,
It seems like five years ago when Mr. Sheldon emailed me from Philadelphia and asked me to begin the process of working with our Division Directors on a Remote Learning Plan. The countless hours holed up in the Woolsey House Board Room with the leadership team felt analogous to building a virtual “Kitty Hawk” school like the Wright brothers. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. Notably, what sustained us through the fatigue and cognitive overload were the twin turbo jet fuels of faith in the Source beyond us, and trust in the resources within and through each of us.
We know that a big part of why we have been able to get the plane off the runaway and into the air is because of the faith and trust you have put in us. We don’t take that for granted.
Now that we have gotten up above the cloud line and set our course to operate indefinitely in this remote learning space, we want to speak to some pressing academic concerns. In her book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown writes, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” It’s clear to us that there is no real clear path through this pandemic reality. Every independent school is not only trying to pilot a plane they have never flown but also building that plane (2.0) while they fly it! We’re no different. The closest thing we can get to clarity is this: we are going to do our best to do what is best for our kids.
With this goal in mind, we want to try and be clear with you about five academic related questions that have been repeatedly asked by students and parents. Many of these questions we have answered throughout our Remote Learning Plan. However, we know it is important that we spiral back through these questions for clarity sake.
Why is my child not having all their classes like normal?
As much as we would like to replicate the brick and mortar experience for our students and teachers, we acknowledge that in this remote environment, amidst a global pandemic, we simply cannot ask our students and teachers to follow the same daily schedule or complete the same workload. Our peer schools in the northwest, weeks ahead of us in the remote school environment, tried this, and they learned quickly that this was an unsustainable model. Their 2.0/3.0 daily schedules now look a lot like ours. More touch points. Fewer classes. Reduced workloads. Priority placed on essential skills and content. What we’ve learned collectively, that has been validated from expert educational consultants like Independent School Management (ISM), is the following: take your normal school schedule (e.g. classes and content), cut it in half, and extend it over two days. It takes twice as long to effectively do what we normally do in a brick and mortar environment. With our 2.0 schedules, we believe we are making the right iterative changes to bring better balance to student well-being and learning.
Will Casady teachers in the Middle and Upper Division give letter grades the rest of the year, even if we complete the spring term in a remote environment?
Yes. For the past few weeks, we have worked closely with our college counselors, along with other independent schools like Casady throughout the country, to come up with our grading concept for the remainder of the spring term. First, teachers will continue to assign work, collect homework, provide feedback, and record letter grades in the grade book. Second, the spring term will be weighted the same as the fall and winter term - a third of their final grade. No percentage changes will be made. Finally, we are, like other peer schools, adopting a No Harm philosophy as the most fair and understanding position. No harm honors our students’ efforts prior to spring break and affords opportunities for improvement of grades while learning remotely — and doing no harm for students not performing optimally in this new, temporary paradigm.
Mathematically speaking, No Harm grading means that teachers of year long courses will take the average of the fall and winter term to establish the spring term threshold. If a student, for example, gets a 90 for the fall term, and an 86 for the winter term, the threshold for the spring term will be an 88. This student then cannot get lower than an 88 for the spring term as long as the student is closely attending to assignments, staying in touch with his or her teacher, and attempting to complete work.
In the case of a spring trimester course, the teacher will take the numerical grade before spring break to establish the threshold for the spring term final grade.
It might help for a No Harm hypothetical example.
Our sister school, Holland Hall, came up with one we will adapt.
Let’s say one of our strong sixth graders entered the remote learning period — grades taken and recorded prior to spring break — with a solid 90 average (between fall and winter term) in Mr. Scoville’s math class. As they delve into double variable algebra, said student continues to confuse the variable X with one of the symbols for multiplication, lowering her grade during the remote learning period to, say, an 85. At the end of the spring term, her final grade would be a 90 — offering No Harm to her grade. On the contrary, let’s say she figures out this mistake fairly quickly and finishes the trimester in math with a 95. Her final grade for the spring term will be a 95.
In short, a grade can only be improved within our No Harm guidelines. That is, of course, as long as a student is closely attending to assignments, staying in touch with teachers, and attempting to complete work.
Did Casady consider a Pass/Fail option?
Yes. We looked at the pros and cons of many grading models. Some independent schools across the country have adopted the Pass/Fail model. The majority have not. Again, in consultation with our college counselors, and input we received from colleges that we work closely with, we concluded that letter grades were in the best interest of our students and optimizes future opportunities for college admissions, local/national scholarships, competitive enrichment programs, fraternities/sororities, the NCAA Clearinghouse, etc. We also believe that assigning letter grades will continue to motivate students to do their best work, even in this remote learning environment.
Casady will not have MD/UD spring final exams. Why?
Regardless of whether we are back on campus together or not, we will not hold regular final exams for students in classes. Our faculty will use the additional classes to focus on advancing student skills and knowledge through culminating projects or other types of assignments. This again is what peer independent schools like Casady are doing with the spring term. Priority should be and will be placed on students’ present well-being and their future-oriented learning.
Will my child be ready for classes next year?
Yes. The incredible work that Sandy Nelson, our Curriculum Coordinator, has done with teachers across all four divisions the past year-and-half around scope and sequence has set us up to successfully backfill any gaps. Teachers will work closely across grades and divisions to identify what course content and skills students will still need to learn going into next year. We are also looking at possible ways we can support our students, whether through academic boot camps in the summer, or starting school a week early.
In closing, we thank you for the continued faith and trust that you have extended to us during these turbulent days and weeks. Whether or not you agree with the decisions we have made, we hope that the answers to these questions were kind and clear in delivery. As always, we will continue to invite your questions and feedback as we move forward together.
Associate Head of School for Academics