by Lauren Hesse ‘19
Recently, MCPS has been receiving some bad press due to suspicions that the 2015-2016 changes to the countywide grading policy have caused grade inflation, beginning with a Washington Post article on the subject published in September 2018 and followed by months of local news outlets running with the story. The backlash quickly reached MCPS central office, causing Superintendent Jack Smith to issue a formal response addressed to the community.
“We take concerns about grade inflation seriously … Since 2016, we have been consistently monitoring outcomes of grading and assessment practices to ensure they accurately reflect student learning. We have and continue to be prepared to recommend adjustments based on our findings,” said Smith.
To illustrate the drastic shift the current grading policy (an A one quarter and a B the next quarter equals an A for the semester) has caused, The Warrior two years ago applied the matrix to the fall semester grades of the 2015-2016 school year (the semester before county exams were replaced with progress checks). The calculations showed that 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 during that period. The average GPA during that semester would have increased from 3.05 to 3.28.
According to data collected by MCPS, the percentage of students earning A’s and B’s increased at a rate of 8-18 percent in core classes like math, English, and science since the new grading policy took effect. When directly asked if this data already supports the argument that grade inflation is occurring, Scott Murphy, the director of the Department of Secondary Curriculum and Districtwide Programs, did not respond.
This data demonstrates that the current grading policy, intentionally or not, could be inflating grades, causing some concerns that an A in an MCPS high school class is becoming devalued, an MCPS diploma is becoming easier to obtain, and that the increase in countywide GPAs could affect whether students are admitted to selective colleges.
While most of the media attention has been drawn to the dramatic increase in A’s, more quietly, the number of D’s and E’s, especially as semester grades, have fallen even though student proficiency in core subjects such as math and English, as measured by state assessments like the PARCC, has not increased, according to the county’s 2018 grading report.
“Grades are only one measure and must also be viewed in the context of multiple measures for student learning … like the ACT, SAT, and AP/IB Exams,” added Smith in reference to these concerns. So, in order to differentiate MCPS students, colleges may have to be more reliant on these other exams, which, according to some teachers, may be less reflective of student learning than the midterms and finals that the county eliminated.
“Testing at the local level is much more important and meaningful to students than state or national testing and better reflects their retention of concepts,” said Alexandra Green, an English teacher who still administers a midterm exam as a grade within second quarter in her AP Language and Composition classes.
Some teachers are concerned that the policy also negatively affects student learning and increases apathy, especially during second and fourth quarters. “It seems like the grade matters more to students now than ever before,” said social studies teacher Katie Jaffe. “The policy is teaching bad study skills and not forcing students to work hard the entire semester.”