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Chicago still issuing grades, while Noble Network will automatically promote students in June

As a response to the disruption in schooling caused by the coronavirus, the state’s biggest charter network will automatically promote all students to the next grade, allow them chances through January to boost this year’s grades, and offer optional summer school.

The first detailed look at the Noble charter network’s remote learning plan shows a markedly different approach to that taken by Chicago Public Schools, where high school students won’t get an automatic pass and teachers will still give letter grades this year. Noble educates 12,500 Chicago students across 18 schools.

Ellen Metz, the network’s head of school, said the grading and promotion policy was created to acknowledge that Noble students, many from Chicago’s low-income neighborhoods, were likely caring for siblings, affected by the illness of family members, or struggling with mental health issues.

However, she said, the school would still keep a high bar for achievement. “Any lowering of our high expectations for our students to honor starting points and barriers runs counter to what diversity, equity and inclusion mean and look like in action,” Metz said.

Noble will make all grades from the current semester temporary until January, and any assignments done by then may be used to boost a grade. Students satisfied with their second-semester grades may lock them in as well, according to Noble officials.

Students who fail a course will be encouraged to make up credits in the next months.

Eventually, the network expects to give letter grades to students.

Chicago district officials have said giving grades encourages student engagement, and that they’ve offered a pass/incomplete option for students who struggle or who don’t participate. Students who earn incompletes will be flagged for summer school. Critics call the practice an unfair burden that will fall hardest on families struggling with devices and lacking reliable internet access. Both district and charter schools have closed school campuses through the summer, though virtual summer school will be offered.

It’s not certain how tentative grades will affect seniors as they enroll in universities, but Noble officials said most of their college-bound students were already accepted into schools.

Noble said it has sent over 6,000 Chromebooks to students, and helped set up 1,000 mobile hot spots. Schools around the city have had challenges with some students who may still not have reliable internet access, particularly those sharing devices with siblings.

Compared with other charter networks, Noble was slower to set up a networkwide remote learning plan. Instead, principals at individual schools set up plans in the first weeks of school closures before the network released guidelines.

Network officials also said they will monitor and track student engagement weekly by keeping track of the number of assignments students submit for grading, which on average shows about 72% of students are engaging with work each week. Chicago Public Schools is not systematically taking attendance.

Updated: This story was updated to reflect that Chicago is offering a pass/incomplete option for students in addition to grading.

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