Exploring state department of education grading guidance during COVID-19: A model for future emergency remote learning


  • Matt Townsley University of Northern Iowa
  • Joshua Kunnath Highland High School, Bakersfield, CA




state department of education, grading, graduation, COVID-19, pandemic


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many United States brick-and-mortar schools in Spring 2020 rapidly transitioned to emergency remote learning. School leaders grappled with how grades ought to fit within the many unknowns of K-12 remote education. In some cases, schools modified their grading scales to give students greater flexibility to pass courses, and in other situations, schools offered incomplete grades in lieu of failures. During this time, state departments of education (DOEs) provided a variety of guidance documents to their school districts. The purpose of this study was to explore the components of state DOE grading guidance during the Spring 2020 school shutdown, along with the patterns of guidance across states. The researchers applied a grounded theory approach to systematically explore the equivalent of 1,444 pages of documents from 48 state DOE guidelines. The document analysis resulted in three primary categories that influenced state DOE grading guidance: guiding principles, student advancement, and determining grades. The researchers conclude by presenting and discussing a three-category model for emergency remote learning grading guidelines for K-12 schools. In the event of another pandemic temporarily affecting the delivery of education to students, policymakers may use this model as a starting point for future recommendations.


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Author Biographies

Matt Townsley, University of Northern Iowa

Matt Townsley is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of Northern Iowa. His research focuses on educational leadership, assessment, and grading. He is co-author of Making Grades Matter: Standards-Based Grading in a Secondary PLC at Work (2020, Solution Tree) and author of Using Grading to Support Student Learning (2022, Routledge).

Joshua Kunnath, Highland High School, Bakersfield, CA

Joshua Kunnath is an English teacher and department chair at Highland High School in Bakersfield, California. He also works as a researcher, teacher coach, and educational consultant in the areas of grading, assessment, and feedback. He serves as editor of the open-access academic journal Journal of School Administration Research and Development.



How to Cite

Townsley, M., & Kunnath, J. (2022). Exploring state department of education grading guidance during COVID-19: A model for future emergency remote learning. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 30, (163). https://doi.org/10.14507/epaa.30.7448