Students in the Dublin City School District won't get letter grades for the third nine-week grading period -- almost all of which involved distance learning.

Instead, the grading system will be pass/incomplete, and that approach apparently isn't sitting well with some parents.

Superintendent Todd Hoadley announced the decision to parents in an April 15 email.

The district's fourth nine-week grading period began March 9, Hoadley said. The district had five days of conventional instruction during the grading period before Gov Mike DeWine announced the statewide closure of school buildings to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The district began implementing distance learning March 18, Hoadley said. Spring break was March 23 to 27.

Hoadley offered a few reasons as to why the pass/incomplete grading system is the appropriate approach.

For one thing, he said, the National School Boards Association recommends that model. A letter-based grading system is based upon the traditional seated student experience, he said. Teachers had two business days to prepare for the current model, with little training and support.

The district also considered families' home environments.

"We're all living in a global pandemic," Hoadley said.

Many families in the district could be under stress from economic issues, he said. The district didn't want to add that with stress caused by letter grades.

Equity also factored into the decision, he said.

During the week of April 13 to 17, which is the fourth of the final nine-week grading period, the district was providing internet hot spots it had purchased to 100 families in the district, Hoadley said. Students in all three high schools lack internet access, he said.

According to Hoadley's email to parents, a passing grade is defined as "evidence of learning and participation in the subject area." The email stated that "teachers will share expectations with students and parents."

An incomplete would be entered for "insufficient evidence of learning," according to the email. Students will have opportunities to earn a passing grade by the beginning of September and will have to achieve a passing grade in order to receive class credit.

Hoadley said students with incomplete grades would receive academic support during the summer recess.

Hoadley said the pass/incomplete grade would be factored into students' second-semester grade. The semester grade will be a combination of the third-period letter grade and the pass/incomplete fourth-period grade for the fourth quarter. The semester grade will be a letter grade, he said.

A passing grade will be equivalent to a 4.0, said Tracey Deagle, the district's deputy superintendent. For a weighted course, the grade equivalency will reflect that, she said. For example, a passing grade in an Advanced Placement class would equal a 5.0.

An incomplete grade is an indefinite extension on a class that students must make up before they graduate, Deagle said. She said the district won't allow students to stay at an incomplete grade, even if that means staff must work with students beyond summer break and into the next school year.

Though the district is trying to remove stress for students during this time, students have to put in some effort, as well, Deagle said.

"If they don't complete anything for us, then they're not going to get credit," she said.

The majority of emails he has received from parents about the grading decision have included concern about that part of the decision, he said. Parents of high school students whose third-quarter letter grades were subpar had hoped to improve their grades in the fourth quarter, he said.

Hoadley said the district is taking those concerns into consideration but acknowledged, "I don't know what that means."

"There's no playbook for this," he said.

A few other parents have emailed him with concern about how the absence of letter grades might affect students' motivation, Hoadley said. He said parents could take this opportunity to talk to students about learning for the joy of it rather than to earn a certain grade.

Parent Jamie Sanders said the pass/incomplete grading change greatly affected her daughter, Kyla, whom she describes as an overachieving student whose grades are important to her.

"She was irate," Sanders said.

Sanders, who lives in Columbus within the Dublin school district, is the mother of three: Caleb, a 21-year-old senior at the Ohio State University and twins Christian and Kyla, both of whom are 15-year-old ninth-graders at Dublin Scioto High School.

Kyla "does every extra-credit assignment," Sanders said, whereas Christian puts in the requisite effort and usually receives a "low B" grade for classes.

Sanders said Kyla told her she doesn't have to do anything the rest of the school year because she's going to pass her classes anyway. Christian, on the other hand, was thrilled that he could continue putting forth the same amount of effort he had been giving to his schoolwork.

Sanders said she doesn't understand why the district wouldn't still provide letter grades when teachers still are providing assignments to students.

"It doesn't make sense," she said.

The absence of letter grades is demotivating for students who put forth effort and want to do well, she said.

She said districts statewide should have taken a united approach to grading during the distance-learning period.

The Ohio Department of Education website published a document to help school districts determine how to issue grades after the closure of school buildings. The page suggests that "districts may choose to use traditional letter grades, opt for a pass/fail/incomplete approach or utilize a standards-based/master approach to report learning."

District parent and Dublin resident Amber Duzan said she thinks the district's main concerns during the pandemic have been to feed students and make sure they have resources.

"Grades right now are just so secondary," she said.

The district is providing grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches for students at Dublin Scioto High School and Riverside Elementary School and provides meals bused to specific locations at certain times.

Duzan is a mother of four, with one in the Dublin school district. Amari McMahon is a 22-year-old senior at Ohio State, and Eli McMahon is a 14-year-old eighth-grader at Davis Middle School. Her youngest children, Emrie, 5, and Micah, 2, aren't in school yet.

Eli has been doing well in school, but he misses his friends, Duzan said. He messages his teachers frequently for answers to his questions. He has to be up at 8 a.m. daily for school and on his computer by 9 a.m., she said.

"We're on him like crazy," Duzan said.

Duzan said she has seen her husband, Joe, a sixth-grade teacher at Davis, struggle with distance learning. On April 16, one of his students finally was able to log into the online math platform the class had been using, she said.

Duzan said her husband has had to reach out to parents about students who haven't logged into the learning platform or submitted work.

"It's a sad situation right now," she said.