BES changes specials to pass/fail option for all grades



Students in kindergarten through second grade at Brownstown Elementary School already had a pass or fail option for the three specials.

Now, all of the school’s students — from kindergarten to fifth grade — will either be given pass or fail for art, music and physical education. Pass will be noted as G+ on report cards.

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Principal Chrystal Street recently proposed that change to Superintendent Tim Taylor, and it was explained to the Brownstown Central Community School Corp. board of trustees during a recent meeting and passed unanimously.

Especially after the school switched to eLearning in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Street said it was really hard for students to do their core academics and then do all of the specials. Plus, she said it was a struggle for the teachers on figuring out how to grade them.

Street then approached Taylor with the proposed change, and he wanted to see some rationale and research.

She found several benefits to a pass/fall grading system.

First, she said it allows the specials teachers to focus on student learning and growth.

“Teachers can provide specific feedback for the kids as opposed to just giving them an A or a B, and I feel like feedback is super important,” she said. “I feel that our art, music and PE teachers are really good about giving kids specific feedback, so if they have that specific feedback, I feel that really we wouldn’t need to have A, B, C, D or F for art, music and PE.

“It would also allow students to be more willing to take risks and to develop that growth mindset, which is super-duper important,” she added.

Street also said students don’t need a grade to learn how to play music, sing, draw, paint or participate in gym-related activities.

“A grade could actually stifle a student’s interest or motivation to learn one of the arts,” Street said. “I know if I had a D in art, I never would have done anything else with it.”

Plus, grading in the specials areas can be very subjective, and a pass/fail system will remove any potential bias the grader could have on the student, she said.

“Students only see specials teachers one day a week, making it hard to remember they have an assignment the following week, and if they don’t turn that assignment in, that could impact their grade drastically, especially if you have a project that takes two weeks,” Street said.

“Then that kid might forget it and that’s a 0, so there might only be seven grades in the grade book, and then you get a 0, that takes a huge hit on a kid,” she said. “Plus, we were doing a lot of our classes outside, so they didn’t take their agenda with them to write down assignments, and it’s hard for those (students) to remember that they have an art assignment due the following week.”

The school also doesn’t create enrichment or remediation groups based on how well they do in art, music or PE.

“We can still count this toward the honor roll if a kid has a no pass in a special. That means that they probably wouldn’t make the honor roll because there was a reason that they didn’t pass because they didn’t do the work,” Street said.

In terms of research, Street said other elementary schools in Jackson County have a pass/fail system for specials.

She also found a lot of pass/fail at the college level, noting Yale University encourages students to take a couple of those classes to encourage academic experimentation and promote diversity in students’ programs.

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