Starting Jan. 4, the lowest grade teachers in District 209 will be able to give students on any assignment or test is 50 percent, district officials announced last week.

The D209 school board voted unanimously on the new policy at a Dec. 14 special meeting. Board member Claudia Medina was absent.

Dan Johnson, the district’s director of Student and Family Services, told board members on Dec. 14 that students will still receive F’s — they just won’t receive percentages lower than 50 percent.

Although the district “upholds the expectation that students complete assignments,” extremely low percentages may penalize some students unnecessarily, Johnson said.

“What we see from grading experts is this idea that when you have a grading scale that goes from 0 to 59 for an F, 60 to 69 for a D, 70 to 79 for a C and so forth, you have about a 60 percentage point gap to describe the grade of an F,” he said. “For our students who unfortunately are not completing their assignments or haven’t done their absolute best on it, we see the devastating impact of that zero or low grade on their overall grade.”

Johnson said that putting a 50 percent floor on grading gives students “a chance to crawl back, to regain some ground lost without having to overcome a significant mathematical disadvantage of doing so.”

Johnson said while teachers determine the grades students receive, the new policy indicates that the superintendent “shall establish a system of grading and that system is what is being modified through this board policy.”

In a statement released Dec. 14, D209 Supt. James Henderson explained that “a letter grade is not the end all, be all for determining whether our students have an understanding of the material,”

Henderson added that administrators “know this year has presented a multitude of challenges. Our children are overwhelmed. Our parents are overwhelmed. The last thing we need is for them to bear the weight of a failing grade when they have tried so hard to adjust to this new way of learning.”

“This is the type of innovation and thought process that we have to have as adults moving forward,” said D209 Board President Rodney Alexander during the Dec. 14 meeting.

“The expectation is that kids will do their assignments and, for the most part that’s what happens,” said board member Ned Wagner. “I think [when] the student isn’t doing their assignment, then something is going on socially or emotionally; maybe something is going on in the family. Why punish them for that?”

In the Dec. 14 statement, D209 officials said that the new policy “does not change the district’s promotion policy,” adding that the “decision to promote a student to the next level will still be based on successful completion of the curriculum, attendance, and participation in required state assignments. Students will not be promoted based on their age or any other social factors not related to academic performance.”