Grades in MCPS Continue To Flourish without Semester Exams

by Jimmy Yates ’21

Students across Montgomery County continue to earn higher grades in core academic classes three years after the change in the grading system. According to analysis by the Washington Post, students are currently earning grades 32-percent higher than they were earning in 2015, the last year of using the old grading system.

In 2015, the MCPS Board of Education voted to put an end to semester final exams, which counted for 25 percent of a student’s semester grade. Highly publicized statistics showed that students, particularly in math classes, on average, had lower grades on the finals compared to their quarter grades. Another important change to the grading policy is that the students’ grades “trend upwards.” Therefore, a student who earns an A one quarter and a B the next quarter will receive an A for the semester grade in the course.

Other aspects of the changed grading policy also raise grades. For instance, students often take exams with a reassessment possibility, rather than the cumulative exam.“With the implementation of reassessment, students have lost their ability to prepare for assessments that cover material for an entire unit of study” said algebra 2 and precalculus teacher Deborah Hiltner. With the new grading system, Hiltner feels that with the option for reassessment, “Students tend to take an assessment for ‘practice’ and then take the reassessment,” said Hiltner. “The old grading system is more realistic for what students will face at the university level.”

This past summer, MCPS board member Ortman Fouse requested a report that included data on the recent semester grades after hearing complaints from parents and educators on how the new grading system was going.

The data showed that in second semester in math classes, students earned approximately 20-percent more A’s and B’s than in 2015, the last year with semester final exams. English and science classes also showed similar increases in the number of higher grades.

This rise in GPA has led many to believe that grades do not have the same meaning as they did in the old grading system. This grade inflation has teachers thinking the old system of grading was more representative of students’ academic performance than before.

“My grades have definitely gone up since the change in grade procedures,” said math teacher Thomas Cohan. Over the course of three years, he has come to the conclusion that “it’s unfair as it is not preparing [students] for college, where exams are often a major factor in grade determination.”

The Washington Post reported that many MCPS educators feel that the upward shift in grades is giving parents and students a false sense of accomplishment. Without semester exams, students do not have to worry about studying and/or applying each unit to a major test that would impact their final grade in their class and possibly if they pass the class.