Mac principal shares rationale for new grading policy, steps to create equity in online learning

Hosack: Amid international pandemic, we must keep students’ mental health as our top priority


Dave Winter

Meeting with the faculty before on the Friday before online classes were to begin the following Monday, Hosack wore a Boston Red Sox cap to observe the crazy hat day that the Maculty had devised to keep spirits high heading into the launch of online schooling. In Tuesday’s podcast conversation, Hosack praised the faculty for how well it had approached online learning, saying that she was lucky to be at a school where the teachers cared so much about their students. Screenshot of Zoom April 3 faculty meeting captured by Dave Winter.

In the 14th edition of The S Word, senior co-hosts Stella Shenkman and Jk Smith, alongside special guest, junior and Shield visuals editor Bella Russo, interview principal Brandi Hosack for a third time about the most recent developments regarding the school and district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dave Winter
According to the resolution passed late Monday night, spring semester grades will be PASS or INCOMPLETE and will not affect class rank for seniors or grade point averages for juniors, sophomores or freshmen. Graphic by Dave Winter.

The group started out discussing the new grading policy that the Board of Trustees passed at its Monday night emergency session, held the same day that online classes began at Mac and throughout the district.

According to the new policy, spring semester grades after March 12 will be either pass or incomplete. Any numerical grades recorded before that will averaged into a single grading period that will not count toward class rank or grade point average but will be averaged with the fall semester grade.

“The brief overview is essentially [that] all grades counting toward GPA’s will be from the fall semester alone,” Hosack said. “What will happen is that we will allow the nine weeks [of the spring semester that we got through] to count toward year-long averages.”

Hosack then went on to explain the intention behind the grading policy and the switch to online learning.

“The expectation is that you continue to interact with your teachers and make progress in the course, but what you won’t see from here on out is a number grade,” Hosack said. “You’ll get feedback from your teachers on how you’re doing, but in the end there will either be a pass or incomplete in your transcript.”

Hosack also clarified how the grading policy affects honors course differently. While the policy does apply to grades in College Board AP classes, it does not apply in ACC or UT OnRamps joint-enrollment classes because the relationship between the district and the College Board is fundamentally different than its relationship with ACC and the University of Texas when it comes to determining grades.

Our main focus as McCallum administrators is to take care of you guys. … We are going to make sure we finish the year off, maybe not as we would have all hoped, but we’re going to finish it together, and we will get through it.

— principal Brandi Hosack

In Advanced Placement courses, the College Board sets the curriculum, but the classroom teacher determines the grade, whereas in ACC and OnRamps joint enrollments classes, the sponsoring college sets both the curriculum and the grade.

Hosack also addressed the issue of equity in the online classroom and shared what the school administration is doing to enable all Mac students to participate in their online classes.

The administration has taken steps to reunite students with Chromebooks and other essential items that they left at school before spring break. The problem has been particularly acute because the final scheduled school day (March 13) was canceled when the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Austin the night before.

“The administration has done a tremendous job on returning Chromebooks to students who left their belongings at McCallum and are continuing to find ways to help the student body,” Hosack said.

The conversation was recorded on Tuesday afternoon before news broke that the proms across the district were going to be canceled. At one point during the interview, the group jokingly discussed having “a social distance prom” outside Hosack’s house. After a moment of levity, the conversation returned to Hosack’s commitment that she and all staff members focus on the essential needs of students at the school at this time.

As she has in previous episodes of The S Word, Hosack expressed strong concerns about the social and emotional impact that the pandemic is having on students and their families.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and for us to not keep mental health in perspective would be morally and ethically wrong,” Hosack said. “My No.1 message to teachers has been to take their curriculum to their most basic forms because at the end of the day, my first job is to keep everyone safe and healthy.”