by Sudha Sudhaker ‘21
Following a challenging first virtual marking period for many students, MCPS has introduced new policies to the grading system. No significant adjustments were made to the grading system during the first quarter to give students flexibility in the new learning environment, and a significant decline in performance was observed.
“Failure rate in math and English jumped as much as sixfold,” according to an article in the Washington Post that reported on MCPS’s reporting of first-quarter grading data. “We knew that gaps were going to get bigger, but these are huge,” said school board member Rebecca Smondrowski in the article. After reflecting on the data, MCPS leaders decided to introduce changes to the grading system. One of the major adjustments is that teachers must accept and grade assignments turned in before the end of the current marking period. This decision may be controversial, as some may believe that the policy fails to reward students who actually turned in the work on time. Others may believe that the new rule may even cause students to procrastinate assignments and adopt unhealthy patterns of laziness.
However, one must consider that many students are still adjusting to virtual learning and need more time to complete their assignments. If students are absent on a specific day, they do not have the ability to immediately see their teacher the next day in person to catch up on missed work, which hinders their ability to successfully complete any assignments. Students who are already frustrated with the new learning environments may lose motivation to turn in any late work at all if they know that the work will not be accepted and graded. The new policy encourages all students by giving them flexibility and support, as well as the assurance that their work will be counted.
Along with other issues identified during the first quarter, MCPS observed that some teachers were assigning a number assignments per week. While the teachers likely had good intentions, the expectation to complete and turn multiple assignments per week proved to be overwhelming for many students. “We had some grade books for the first marking period that had 20, 30, even more assignments in one class, and the pretty consistent feedback we got was it was too much,” said Scott Murphy, MCPS’s director of college and career readiness and districtwide programs, in the Washington Post article. “The issue is directly tied to student anxiety and well-being.”
In addition to school, many students are managing jobs, child-care duties, technical difficulties, and life outside of school, so expecting them to keep up with every single assignment can be unreasonable at times. In particular, students from low-income backgrounds have had a harder time adjusting. The Washington Post noted that in MCPS alone, “Hispanic students from low-income families fared worst, with last year’s failure rate of 4 percent soaring to nearly 24 percent.” In addition, students in special education have also experienced a significant increase in failing grades. The Washington Post reported that “in ninth grade English, some students in special education who passed last year failed this year.” These certain student groups are at a disadvantage, since they require extra time or help to complete assignments.
While teachers should still continue to stress the importance of due dates and deadlines, the new policy is a step in the right direction because it gives students the opportunity to turn in quality work and comprehend the concepts because they are not rushing to get it turned in by the deadline.