Students’ Grades Soar under New Grading System

by Danielle Tobb ‘17

An analysis of raw data of each student’s Semester 1 grades from the 2016-17 school year showed that 55 percent of all letter grades earned were A’s, an increase of 12 percent from the previous school year. The upward trend of the grading matrix helped enable 82 percent of students’ grades to be an A or B. The percentage of students obtaining E’s has remained constant over the past two school years at about 2 percent.

When the MCPS Board of Education unanimously voted in September 2015 to abandon the practice of administering semester final exams, it was unclear how the new grading matrix would impact student grades in the 2016-17 school year. Amidst this controversial decision, some teachers voiced concerns about possible grade inflation due to the upward trend of the replacement grading system. The uncertainty surrounding the new grading policy prompted The Warrior to investigate the distribution of midterm grades this year compared to previous years at Sherwood.

The 2-percent increase in A’s from 2013-14 to the 2014-15 school year compared with the 12-percent jump in A’s due to the new grading matrix indicates the existence of grade inflation.

Some teachers are troubled by the presence of grade inflation at Sherwood. Shelley Jackson, head of the English Department, said the new grading scale is “not in the best interest of students. I think it is detrimental to their futures [and] will certainly make Montgomery County students less prepared for the rigors of college.”

The message being sent to students is also a primary concern among teachers. English teacher Beth Petralia is unsure if getting an A as a midyear grade this year truly indicates a student’s mastery of the material. The main problem is that “some students are being given A’s without the experience of studying for a major test that covers multiple units,” said Petralia.

On the MCPS Assessment Strategy webpage, the county responded to worries over the new grading calculation inflating grades shortly after the decision to eliminate semester exams, saying “By using the quality point average and equally weighting each marking period grade, the majority of MCPS semester grade calculations remain exactly the same as the previous grading table, resulting in limited changes.”

Jordan Bennett, head of the Math Department, thinks there has not been a high degree of grade inflation. “When the county pulls data, the focus is more about the students earning a C or above versus those earning a D or below. When looking at the data through that lens, there has not been significant change,” said Bennett.

While the number of failing grades has not changed, the data does show change among higher grades; in fact, there was a significant percentage jump in A’s, according to the raw grade distribution. The average GPA for Semester 1 has crept up to a high of 3.29 this school year, while the GPA for Semester 1 grades hovered between 3.04 and 3.07 during the past three school years.

In addition, if the new grading matrix were applied to the Semester 1 grades of the 2015-16 school year, 54 percent of students would have been awarded A’s; this is 11-percent more than the 43 percent of students who actually obtained A’s that year when midterms were administered. The average GPA would have increased from 3.05 to 3.28.

Principal Bill Gregory said the administration constantly monitors the distribution of grades through the school year. This past semester, he was not surprised when grades were higher because midterms and finals tend to pull down students’ grades.