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State Boards Waive Pandemic-Related Obstacles to Graduation


Alexandria, Va.—When schools across the country closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, states acted quickly to suspend end-of-year assessments and amend graduation requirements for high school seniors. A new NASBE policy update highlights trends in state guidance around graduation and grade advancement and how some are addressing inherent equity challenges.

Overall, most state boards of education retained minimum course credit requirements but suspended state requirements on testing, hours, and days in classroom seats. States are also addressing how to best help students who were already at risk of not graduating. The Washington state board, for example, is requiring local districts to demonstrate “good faith efforts” in helping students who are not on track. Districts and charter schools in Tennessee are encouraged to provide remote learning opportunities as an opportunity to improve student grades.

States are embracing a “do not harm” principle for student grades. For example, North Carolina seniors will receive a pandemic-specific passing grade or a withdrawal for spring coursework, and Tennessee students cannot receive a spring semester grade lower than the one they were earning before school closure.

State boards are also acknowledging inequities in delivery of education remotely, including in access to online learning and in instructional quality. Some, like Washington, are directing districts to assess equity implications as they seek waivers from graduation requirements and to share how they will mitigate the potential disparate impacts. Recognizing that students may be experiencing many difficult circumstances beyond their control, Illinois recommends that districts focus on student engagement but not penalize students for disengagement. North Carolina’s guidance acknowledges potential disparities and outlines five factors for effective remote learning.

The analysis also points to the important role of stakeholder feedback in crafting states’ pandemic-related policies: “Engaging educators, superintendents, university leaders, and others is a critical step for informing the monumental task of simultaneously ensuring student safety, readiness for college and careers, and equity across schools and districts,” writes author Valerie Norville.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.

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