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The Toronto District School Board says the policy was put in place because of the struggle students have faced as they transition in and out of virtual learning.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Students and experts say they’re pleased Canada’s largest school board won’t let lower grades in the last stretch of the first semester of this academic year affect high-school students’ marks, after the period was disrupted by the latest wave of COVID-19.

In a note sent to parents late Thursday, the Toronto District School Board said final marks for high-school students would only reflect the work they did up until Dec. 17 – the last school day before the winter break. The final assignments students are completing in January will only count if the results have a positive effect on a student’s grade.

“This means that a student’s mark will not drop as a result of end of semester evaluations,” the letter said.

The board said the policy was put in place because of the struggle students have faced as they transition in and out of virtual learning, and to address the possibility of increased absences owing to the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“Students have already completed nearly 90 per cent of the semester,” said TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird. “By ensuring marks do not drop below pre-winter-break levels, we are ensuring that this uncertain period of time of remote learning with an increased number of COVID-19 related absences and isolation periods doesn’t negatively impact a student’s final marks.”

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In-person learning will resume in Ontario on Monday, after the provincial government shifted to online learning following the spike of COVID-19 cases during the winter holidays.

Meanwhile, the District School Board of Niagara said teachers can use their discretion when it comes to how final assignments this semester affect an overall grade.

“At the District School Board of Niagara, work that students submit in January will be considered in their final grade; however, educators are encouraged to give consideration to an individual student’s needs, unique circumstances and how a student has demonstrated their learning throughout the entire semester overall as well,” said DSBN spokesperson Carolyn LoConte.

Stephanie Chitpin, a professor with the University of Ottawa’s faculty of education, said the TDSB’s policy is imperative to ensure that students aren’t negatively affected by their mental health and circumstances that are outside their control.

“We place a lot of emphasis on assessment in terms of the final grade, but I think what we need to focus on is the well-being of our students,” said Prof. Chitpin, who has worked as a school principal in the past.

“We cannot assess students at the expense of their mental health.”

Supporting students through this period will be more beneficial in the long run than putting pressure on final assignments or exams, she said.

Maya Raff, a 16-year-old high-school student who attends Northern Secondary School in Toronto, said she was relieved when she learned of the TDSB decision.

She has been juggling two final projects for each of her courses, and said the rule will allow her to take a breath and prioritize which assignments are most important to her.

She said it was stressful to manage last-minute switches between virtual and in-person learning, especially at the end of a semester.

“I’m okay with virtual and in-person,” said Ms. Raff.

“But switching back and forth really quickly throws off your whole schedule, and once you get used to one and switch back to the other, the assignment requirements change, so it’s really annoying.”

However, the Grade 11 student is also concerned about how her first experience of exams will go once the pandemic subsides.

“I haven’t done an exam in my life,” Ms. Raff said. “So I have no idea what it’s like to have to remember everything you do for a whole year on one stressful test.”

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