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RPS Launches new online learning tool, approves grading plan

Posted at 6:00 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 18:24:08-04

RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond Public Schools has launched a new online learning portal giving students a new access to “academic content and enrichment resources to support learning at home” while schools are closed until at least the end of the current school year because of COVID-19.

The site, called “RPS@Home”, launched Monday.

“What we heard from families is, understandably, they're not teachers and they're very stressed and anxious about putting together a day's worth of learning for their students. And really, that's an unfair expectation for them,” said Superintendent Jason Kamras, explaining the inspiration for the site.

The site contains several resources for students, including on-demand tutoring, support for exceptional education students and English language learners, and daily lesson plans for students from pre-K to grade 12.

“We put together this set of prepackaged lessons so kids can go on and do them day by day,” added Kamras. “And families can really monitor and provide support, but not have to be actually teaching things and responsible for putting it all together.”

Kamras said there is about three hours of instruction each day covering subjects like math, science, English, and even physical education. He stressed that none of the courses on the website will be graded, but are simply tools to help.

“Nothing is going to ever replace a great teacher in the flesh. But, this is our effort to support family, support kids while we're closed,” said Kamras.

Kamras provides update to home laptop program

Of course, not every student may have the equipment required to access online learning and Kamras provided an update on RPS’ efforts to get laptops and hotspots to those students. Kamras had initially said they were looking to purchase 10,000 laptops.

“We've made an initial purchase of about 3,000 computers. We're looking to see between that and the ones that we have on hand if that gets us far enough to meet our initial need. If we do need more, we'll continue to move closer to that purchase of 10,000,” said Kamras.

Kamras said they hope to begin distributing computers to high school seniors starting on Friday and go from there.

“We sort of want to take it week by week to see what the need is. Right now we're up to a need of about 7,000 to 8,000. So, between our existing inventory and the 3,000 we just purchased, we think we can handle that right now. But, that will likely escalate over the coming weeks,” said Kamras.

RPS approves grading for end of school year

Kamras also discussed the decision by the RPS Board on how to handle grading the shortened school year. Kamras said what was chosen “did no harm” to students and was “relatively simple”.

Kamras said for pre-K to eighth grade, students will not receive a grade for their classes, but one of two designations.

If, at the time when schools were closed and the student was on track to pass the class, they will receive an “S” for satisfactory. If they were not, they would receive an “N” for needs improvement.

“Neither of those is a grade. They don't count for anything. They're merely notations so that next year's teachers will know if students need extra support as they go into the next grade. And we're asking teachers to complete those designations by May 8,” said Kamras.

Middle and high school students, they will receive grades and GPAs for the year.

Kamras said first, in order to reach a final grade for the third marking period, which is when schools were shutdown, teachers have been told to exempt any missing assignments from a students’ grade.

“We're doing that because there are many reasons that students may not be able to do makeup work at this point, given everything going on with a virus and quite frankly, many of our teachers are not able to receive makeup work at this point given everything going on as well,” added Kamras.

Additionally, any assignment that received a failing grade would have its score raised to 50-percent.

“Again, so as to not artificially depress grades right now. We want to help our kids. Again, they wouldn't have an opportunity to make up that test or make up that assignment,” said Kamras.

After finishing that step, teachers would then average the grades from the first, second, and third marking periods to get a student’s final grade.

Kamras added that high school students have additional requirements depending on what grade they are in.

Kamras said seniors who were on track to graduate when school closed are essentially done. Those that were not, will have to complete an online module on the “RPS@Home”.

“Those modules will not be graded, they just need to be completed. And once they're completed, the student will get the credit for graduation,” explained Kamras.

For students in grades nine through eleven, they will have to complete modules for any class they were in to get the credit for the class. Those will also be on “RPS@Home” and will not be graded.

Kamras said the modules for all grades will be posted by the end of this week.