GPAs went up for graduating seniors, but districts made accommodations

Problem Solvers

DENVER (KDVR) — Grade point averages for the class of 2021 went up in many Denver metro area school districts during the course of the pandemic.

But many of those districts also made accommodations for students by giving extra grace on assignment deadlines and scoring, eliminating failing grades, or shifting the grading scale while students and teachers continued to adjust to different learning and teaching environments.

Cherry Creek Schools

“Teachers went out of their way to accept late work, to let kids redo assignments,” said Jennifer Perry, the assistant superintendent of educational operations for Cherry Creek Schools.

Perry said her district did not adjust grading scales during the pandemic but attributed the students’ success to supportive parents and teachers and to the district’s constant tracking of student progress and strategizing as they shifted between hybrid and remote schooling.

The unweighted grade point average for the Cherry Creek Schools’ class of 2021 went from 2.87 in the fall of 2019 to 2.92 in the fall of 2020. The weighted GPAs increased from 3.11 to 3.15 during the same span.

“I wasn’t hugely surprised at the end. I mean, the fact that it improved was great, but it was something that we were starting to know along the way instead of at the last minute, to pull the grades and be surprised,” said Perry. “I think teachers were really thinking about, ‘How do I let kids demonstrate what they know and what they’ve learned in different ways?’ You expect kids to come to class, participate, (and) that looks different when it’s online, so there was a ton of grace given.”

Perry said the district also told students in the spring of 2020 that their grades that semester could not be lowered. 

“If you’ve got an A, you can’t go down,” said Perry. “If you’ve got a C, you can’t go down, but we really didn’t want to lower standards coming into this year,” she said. “We wanted to assume this would be as close to a normal year as possible, and so we really wanted to continue to hold kids to high standards.”

Denver Public Schools

In the Denver Public Schools (DPS), the class of 2021’s grade point average across the district rose from an unweighted 2.62 in the fall of 2019 to an unweighted 2.74 in the fall of 2020. The weighted grades improved from 2.88 to 3.10.

According to DPS, grading practices vary greatly at many schools in the districts.  “GPAs are slightly higher in fall 2020 than fall 2019, likely because the new policy of not awarding Fs in 2020-2021 school year.”

Kathy Hoffman, a school counselor for the class of 2021 at Denver’s North High School said kids who would have gotten Fs were instead afforded the opportunity to make up those credits.

“We have been doing that actively with our students,” said Hoffman, “where they have to complete one project – one research paper – instead of having to repeat the entire class over again in order to get the percentage needed to pass the class.”

Hoffman said each student handled the pandemic differently. Some, who were socially motivated to attend school struggled with remote learning.

“I know that teachers were a little bit more forgiving on deadlines and workloads because we had no idea what each student was going through at home,” said Hoffman. “Our teachers were super flexible, extending deadlines, having alternate assignments. The expectations were different. We knew we could not just have school as usual.”

According to data provided by the district, North High School’s average unweighted GPA for the class of 2021 was 3.25 in the fall of 2019 and 2.92 in the fall of 2020. The school’s average weighted GPA for the class of 2021 was 3.54 in 2019 and 3.22 in the fall of 2020.

“I think every student, really, is in such a different situation from the next,” she said. “A few students were telling me that their parents got COVID, and they got COVID themselves…so every situation was so different.”

The Problem Solvers requested specific data for the class of 2021, who were juniors in 2019-2020 and seniors in 2020-2021, from six different schools at DPS.

Aurora Public Schools, Jefferson County Public Schools and Adams 12 Five Star Schools

The Problem Solvers obtained data from other districts for the class of 2021.

Aurora Public Schools provided quarterly data, showing students’ GPA during the first quarter of 2019-2020 school year was 2.54 and decreased to 2.37 during the first quarter of 2020-2021. Second quarter grades declined from 2.67 to 2.44.

Jefferson County Public Schools shared data showing a GPA shift from 2.96 in the 2019-2020 school year for high school juniors to a 3.02 for seniors in the 2020-2021 school year.

The Adams 12 Five Star Schools class of 2021 saw an improvement as well. Grade point averages jumped from 2.77 in the fall of 2019 to 3.02 in the fall of 2020. The GPAs do not include charter schools.

“Grades did go up for us, and that’s typically what happens for that cohort of students,” said Lee Peters, the executive director of schools for the district. “I think the junior year is an emphasized year at the high-school level and students – right or wrong – often times start taking high school a little more seriously because of a natural maturation that happens and understanding the implications a little bit better for their post-secondary plans,” he added.

Peters said the district made accommodations for students during the spring of 2020, when the pandemic led to remote learning.

“What we said as a district was, ‘Your grade right now can’t go down unless you just don’t engage or you stop attending and being a part of it,’” said Peters. “We did that last spring, just recognizing how quick the transition was to remote, how unexpected it was, and so we felt that was a fair and appropriate way to address grading for the final semester of last school year when the pandemic hit.”

Peters said the district had not yet analyzed the data to learn how many students may have benefited from the spring accommodations. “It’s on my list of things to do,” said Peters.

This school year, the district did not make any grade adjustments, however, high school students who earned an F during the first semester now have an opportunity to raise their grade during the second semester, said Christina Dahmen, the communications manager for the district.

“They had a chance to work with their teacher here in January to reassess or resubmit missing work and assignments that were incomplete in order to raise that grade that could give them a chance to obviously level up a grade in a semester-long class,” said Peters.

Peters said the district had not yet processed data that would reflect how many students are currently taking advantage of that opportunity.

The FOX31 Problem Solvers also requested data from districts that changed their grading scales or made other adjustments for students. Check back for an upcoming story on that data.

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