by Anika Mittu ’19
During freshman year, the Class of 2019 faced a grading policy that considered quarterly grades and a final exam to determine semester grades. But, for the next three years, these students experienced the new grading system—one that meant no more finals and an upward trend (an A as a grade for one quarter and a B the next quarter equals a grade of A for the semester).
Because of the new grading policy, current seniors knew that they would have an easier time achieving high grades in their sophomore, junior, and senior years than their older peers had warned them about.
But as college admissions become more competitive with every passing year, some students were left wondering if colleges would view their high GPA and stellar transcript with suspicion due to the fact that MCPS grading policy makes it easier for students to earn high grades.
However, according to Tamara Wolfson, an admissions counselor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, counselors will not be able to judge an applicant based on this trend. “Unfortunately, we won’t be able to see the trend on the MCPS transcript. We will have to form our opinions based on the School Profile and where a student’s grades fall on the distribution,” said Wolfson.
Additionally, Melissa Stoker, an admissions counselor at Towson University, states that the current MCPS grading policy is not abnormal. “While grading scales fluctuate between schools and counties, the averaging of the grades from quarter 1 and quarter 2 to calculate a cumulative semester grade is not uncommon outside of Montgomery County,” said Stoker.
Not only is this grading system growing more common at the high-school level, but even colleges are beginning to eliminate finals—a move that is similar to the current MCPS final exam policy. “Often if students have proved their mastery of the subjects introduced in a college course, professors will make the final exam optional, eliminate the exam, or require a final paper where students synthesize what they have learned into one final piece,” explained Stoker. “In order to assimilate high school courses to this higher education culture, it is not rare for high schools, counties, and districts to adopt this new model.”
Some students worried that as admissions counselors realize MCPS students achieve high grades easier than other students, the college admissions process would devalue their transcripts and place increasing importance on standardized test scores.
However, according to Wolfson, this isn’t necessarily true. “High school achievement is still the single best predictor of how a student will do in college. Test scores are a three hour snapshot and can be impacted much more by a student’s financial resources and access to professional preparation,” said Wolfson.
On the whole, Wolfson believes that MCPS students enter college equipped for success. However, the current grading policy’s prioritization of grades above learning worries Wolfson.
“In many cases, a student who has earned an A for the first marking period and a B for the second has a strong understanding of the material but may have lightened up a bit in that one class in order to concentrate on another,” said Wolfson. “The emphasis on grades as opposed to learning concerns me more than anything. In college, there is no ‘working the system.’”