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How MCPS’ new grading policy is benefiting students during times of uncertainty

As covid-19 cases in the United States continue to soar, surpassing 2 million total, school districts nationwide continue to test and implement different online learning systems to ensure students receive educational instruction despite being locked outside of physical classrooms. 

In MCPS, the transition to online learning has led to modifications of its grading policy; students now only need to meet at least two of the four requirements conceived by county decision-makers to pass. If a student completes (1) at least 50 percent of their work, (2) proves they grasp the material through grades, (3) engages in check-ins and zoom calls, or (4) the given teacher provided positive feedback on the students academic performance, then the student passes. If the student does not meet at least two of the four requirements listed above, then the student receives an incomplete. 

Additionally, students are given the option to choose either pass/incomplete or a final letter grade on their transcript regardless of whether they pass or not. If the student chooses the pass/incomplete option, a P or I will show up on their transcript under Marking Period 4, dependent on the aforementioned evaluation process. If the student instead chooses the final letter grade option, their Marking Period 4 grade will be one grade higher than their Marking Period 3 grade if they passed their courses. Conversely, if the student chooses a final letter grade but received an incomplete, they would finish with their Marking Period 3 grade on their transcript.
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The application students used to select grading options for their transcripts

This system has its advantages. The implementation of MCPS’ new grading policy caters to various circumstances, as it gives students with limited access to resources the opportunity to pass their courses, while also alleviating stress from those adjusting to the change and uncertainty caused by covid-19.


At the end of March, MCPS began distributing chromebooks and mobile WiFi devices to students that did not have access to internet connection or other resources required to complete distance learning. This highlights an issue that the new grading policy takes into consideration: If a student does not have access to resources like computers, internet connection, and printers, their overall performance online will be worse than someone who has access to necessary materials. 

Nate Tinbite, the 42nd Student Member of Montgomery County’s Board of Education, mentioned that the grading options discussed with his co-members on the board were either (1) a universal pass/incomplete as a final semester grade for all students, (2) students receive a final letter grade that is the same as their Marking Period 3 grade, (3) students receive a final letter grade that is one letter grade higher than their Marking Period 3 grade, or (4) students have the option of receiving a final letter grade or a pass/incomplete.

Ultimately, Tinbite believed that option three was the best for students, especially those who are facing access challenges, as it levels the playing field for all students, not just those with more access to resources. 

“I didn't agree with other options just from an equity standpoint—how are we helping out black and brown kids, or how are we helping out [the] student population that’s disproportionately affected by the virus?” Tinbite said. “I thought that those options gave an unfair advantage to students who weren’t disrupted by [the coronavirus] and not for the students who were.”

Junior Ethan Phan shared similar thoughts, stating that the new grading policy caters more towards those who face difficulties when learning online. “I think the important thing to remember about the grading policy is it's not really for the people who are focusing on… getting into the best college,” Phan says. “It's often for the people who… don't necessarily have the resources to stay up to date with their classes and be engaged.” 

Additionally, some students aren’t able to perform as well from the confines of their home. Sophomore Yohana Hailemariam expressed that she prefers working in a school environment because learning at home makes focusing difficult. “My performance has [gotten] worse… doing [work] at home is not as productive” Hailemariam says. “I don’t feel motivated to learn… I’m just doing [work] to [finish] it.”

However, she says the new grading policy alleviated some of her stress and gave her the chance to pass despite uncomfortable circumstances. “I love [the new grading policy]... it’s a lot less stressful,” she says. “This is good for… [those] who are having a hard time right now and… are stressed; it gives everyone an opportunity to pass."

Adjusting to the current situation may also impact how well teachers administer online learning, resulting in students losing connection with teachers to either get help or finish assignments This can often complicate the situation, making it harder for students to maintain their grades. “I know a lot of people have struggled with reaching out to teachers and getting a…better sense of what's going on with the class,” Phan added.

Although this can be inconvenient, the new grading system ensures that these minor drawbacks do not greatly impact a student’s grades like it would in a regular school season. If a student still completes a majority of their work and stays engaged, then a few disruptions will not affect their final grade. 

While the new grading policy may have its pros and cons for every individual, it’s evident that the policy holistically considers every student’s possible position and rightfully lowers the bar on passing courses in times of uncertainty. 

SOAPBOX

“I personally think it is a good idea to have students choose depending on their own personal situation and performance from last quarter. It gives all students the chance to have what is best for them on their transcript and not have to stress too much about their grade, especially with everything going on.” — Certitude Lembion, junior 

“I feel like we should have just done pass/fail. Pass/fail is the best way to ‘level the playing field’ as much as possible because then there’s not much discrepancy and I know a lot of teachers aren't gonna actually fail students right now.” — Abonie Blount, junior 

"I think this new grading policy is very helpful for students who may not have the time or resources to do school work. It gives them a chance to get good grades with all the things they may have going on and allows them to be somewhat stress free. However, for students who have the time and resources it definitely is kind of a lee way in terms of them slacking off because they’ll still be able to get a good grade without putting a whole lot of effort." — Maceda Berhanu, junior 

“I honestly like the new grading policy, I think it would help a lot of students with anxiety. I personally like working at home, it’s less stressful and calming. But I do think that many students can easily be distracted at home and end up procrastinating. I think that working from home gives students more freedom in their work and makes them a bit more comfortable. To me, personally, I think that those who have to work extra hard for good grades might be upset due to the fact that the new policy makes it easier to achieve good grades.” — Makayla Whiting, junior

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