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State superintendent issues guidance for graduation, giving school districts broad discretion

Jackie Valley
Jackie Valley

The Nevada Department of Education issued a nine-page guidance document Friday suggesting that school districts “consider alternatives to in-person graduation ceremonies” as the coronavirus upends daily life around the world.

The paper also seeks to provide some clarity about how school districts should handle graduation requirements for the Class of 2020. It touches on four key areas — attendance, course completion, class rank and assessments — and gives school districts broad discretion.

“It is not the Nevada Department of Education’s (NDE) position that seniors are automatically finished with schooling during the closure of school buildings, since there are other considerations, such as concurrent credit courses, CTE industry certifications, and other determinations as to whether a senior is on the path toward graduation,” the department leaders wrote. “Whether a senior is on the path toward graduation is a local education agency decision.”

School districts can decide whether seniors who can’t finish classes because of COVID-19 “have completed sufficient course content” to graduate; however, state education officials suggest districts examine whether students were on a path to graduation prior to the virus-related school closures.

For students not already on a path toward graduation, the state education department should “consider how to create academic experiences” that would yield credits and lead to graduation eligibility. 

Credits could be achieved through assignments — such as written work packets, online coursework, projects, portfolios or applied work experiences — or competency-based assessments, according to the guidance document. The latter could include tests created by school districts, online ACT, PSAT and SAT prep, or using a determined cut score from a college-entrance exam, among others.

The bottom line appears to be flexibility.

“NDE recommends that districts provide as much latitude and support for students to graduate on time as possible,” the guidance states.

As for calculating grades and class rank, the department suggests districts roll over students’ grades from the previous semester or come up with another method that reflects students’ work.

Students are being contacted at least once a week for purposes of attendance. School districts agreed to that as they shifted to distance learning, per Gov. Steve Sisolak’s emergency directive last month.

After the coronavirus-related school closures, the U.S. Department of Education waived certain state standardized testing and accountability requirements for the 2019-2020 school year. But there are other assessments that fall outside that waiver.

Nevada law, for instance, requires high school students take a civics test. State education officials, however, are “researching available options” to have that assessment waived, according to the guidance document.

State education officials also said they’re working with the vendor for career and technical education assessments to come up with an online solution. The online testing could begin by April 20, they wrote, and continue as long as necessary.

Despite asking school districts to consider alternatives to in-person graduation ceremonies, state education officials did not offer any specific recommendations.

Churchill, Lyon, Washoe and White Pine county school districts are working with the state education department on the guidance, along with the Nevada Association of School Superintendents and WestEd. State Superintendent Jhone Ebert and two deputy superintendents — Jonathan Moore and Felicia Gonzales — authored the guidance document.

Greg Bortolin, a spokesman for the Nevada Department of Education, said the academic year was about 80 percent complete when the closure started, which made it easier to provide more flexibility for graduation.

“I think if this happened in November or December, we’d be having a totally different conversation,” he said.

The governor has ordered schools and nonessential businesses to remain closed at least through April 30.

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