Students can choose a letter grade one higher than their third quarter mark or a “pass” for their transcript, MCPS announces

May 12, 2020, 2:38 p.m. | By Anika Seth | 3 years, 9 months ago

At today's Board meeting, MCPS moved to an optional pass/fail grading system due to the impact of COVID-19 on schools

MCPS will allow high schoolers to choose how their second semester grades appear on their transcript, the Board of Education declared in a 7-1 vote today. Students can opt for their transcript to reflect a “pass” or one letter grade higher than what they received in the third quarter. A COVID-19 marker will also be added to all transcripts for the second semester. 

The decision follows the county’s April 19 move to a pass/incomplete grading scale for the fourth quarter. The county has not yet announced the grade calculation procedure for students who earn an “incomplete” for the fourth marking period, but they are determining what credit recovery options will be available, including summer learning.

Though MCPS schools will not reopen for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, the semester will end as scheduled with seniors released on May 22 and all students released on June 15.

MCPS’ original options for second semester grades included universal pass/incomplete, using the third marking period letter grade, reporting one letter grade higher than the third quarter grade, and allowing students to choose between a pass/incomplete and their third quarter grade. 

Board members saw the chosen option as a balance between the latter two. “I genuinely do think [offering choice] is the compromise,” Nate Tinbite, the Student Member of the Board, said.

All grade calculations are currently predicated on the assumption that a student passes the fourth quarter. To do so, a student must meet at least two of the following guidelines, which MCPS released on May 3: assignment completion, understanding of concepts/skills, consistent engagement, and the teacher’s professional judgement.

The Board’s decision factored in staff, student, and parent feedback, as well as a consideration of known inequities in student access to technology and parental assistance. Board members had received thousands of emails from stakeholders prior to the meeting, with Tinbite alone receiving over 6,500 messages from students.

Many BOE members said a system allowing for choice would provide a more equitable evaluation of student performance during unprecedented times. “The combination of giving students the choice between the pass and the grade… was sort of an amendment to the best of two options,” Rebecca Smondrowski (District 2) said.

Attesting to his preference for choice, Tinbite expressed concerns about how colleges would view a student with a pass on their transcript instead of a letter grade. “Most colleges filter through their applications on a regional basis,” he said. Tinbite added that if MCPS forced students to report a “pass” while students from neighboring counties had letter grades, colleges may “unconsciously favor” students with grades. Under the choice system, college-bound MCPS students can choose to report a letter grade.

The one dissenting member, Judith Docca (District 1), cited reservations about increasing the burden on teachers. “I don’t want teachers to have extra duties in determining, ‘Oh, this student [gets] a pass; this student [gets] a grade,’” Docca said. She instead supported a system in which every MCPS student would receive a final semester grade one letter higher than what they earned in the third quarter.

Other board members believed that Docca’s preferred system would give students grades that they did not necessarily earn. “I could not see myself supporting [one letter higher than from the third quarter],” Jeanette Dixon (At-Large) said. “I thought it was, in some ways, grade inflation.”

Prior to the decision, Board President Shebra Evans (District 4) requested that the MCPS Office of Shared Accountability conduct a comparative analysis following the meeting to make Board members aware of any unforeseen outcomes that may negatively impact students.

Maria Navarro, MCPS Chief Academic Officer, also presented recommendations to the Board for elementary and middle school final grades. For students in grades 2-5, Navarro suggested that a student’s final grade be the average of their grades in the first three marking periods. The BOE unanimously approved Navarro’s recommendation. The Board also instructed Superintendent Jack Smith to develop guidelines for middle school that would yield a final grade equal to or higher than a student’s average from the first three quarters.

Final grades for classes providing high school credit that are offered in middle school will be calculated in the same way as all other high school courses. 

No changes were suggested for kindergarten and the first grade, as Navarro said that current grading metrics only evaluate proficiency for advancing into the next grade.

In addition to the grading system, the school board discussed other relevant programs. Between March 16, when schools closed, and May 8, MCPS has distributed 1.7 million meals, 80,000 Chromebooks to students and staff members, and 6,000 personal WiFi networks, according to Deputy Superintendent Monifa McKnight.

The Board also unanimously approved a course on LGBTQ+ studies, which will pilot at 10 MCPS high schools. Tinbite said that this pilot course is one of the first in the country.

Prayag Gordy and Sarah Schiffgens contributed reporting.

Last updated: Nov. 22, 2020, 2:44 p.m.

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