Czech schools weigh whether to issue standard marks in distance-learning era

Photo: Lenka Žižková

Schoolchildren and teachers are nearing the end of difficult semesters of intermittent distance learning due to the coronavirus crisis. The Ministry of Education is recommending teachers prepare assessments of students rather than give out traditional marks. But how best to assess students’ performance has been a subject of some contention and consternation.

In the northern Moravian town of Nový Jičín, elementary school director Ladislav Gróf says many more students than usual are missing classes, now held online, and failing to complete assignments. And while teachers can write assessments that take into account special circumstance, he told Czech Radio, ultimately they must be graded.

“The biggest problem will be with those students who cooperated little or hardly almost not at all. In our case, for example, computer science is taught starting in the fifth grade. Those students really had very little teaching in the classroom. Documenting some educational outcomes will be difficult to determine – whether through report card marks or evaluations, it doesn’t matter.”

Schools are required to issue half-year report cards by the third teaching day of when students return to class or make them available by January 28 through the school information system. Some have said they will not follow the Ministry of Education recommendations. Among them is the Hotel School, Business Academy and Secondary Industrial School in Teplice, says its headmaster, Jiří Nekuda.

Illustrative photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio

“Our school in no case will follow the path of verbal evaluation for the mid-year report cards. We saw the students for about six to eight weeks this semester, so we have some marks and a grading system in place, so we will manage somehow. We’d appreciate some leniency from teachers. But, unfortunately, we cannot expect that in the case of students who aren’t communicating at all.”

Milena Hodková, head of the Buzulucká Primary School in Teplice, says the Ministry of Education’s recommendations should not be applied across to board. Some children – and their parents – want to get traditional grades while foreign-born students should be assessed differently given current circumstances.

“Children actually like getting grades and want to see marks on a report card. On the other hand, we will use assessments for foreign students, who have bigger problems with distance learning, and also for children who did not find the online environment stimulating enough to give it their all.”

For the time being, only children in special needs school, kindergartens, first and second grade pupils at elementary schools are back in classrooms following the winter break, as the Czech Republic remains at the highest risk level on the government’s Covid-19 index.

Perhaps most eager for schools to open – and in need of receiving traditional grades – are students preparing for leaving exams or entrance exams to universities. Renata Schejbalová, chairperson of the Association of Gymnasiums says.

“Understandably, it’s very difficult for such students who essentially haven’t been in school for half a year. I have always said that the best distance learning can’t replace the classroom. I will be very glad when the government to allows those nearing matriculation to return to school and prepare for exams.”

In the meantime, the Ministry of Education this week issued measures to adjust entrance exams for secondary school graduation courses and confirmed there will be no compulsory uniform entrance exams for four-year graduation courses.