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Is the New Grading Policy Earning High Marks?

Thursday, November 11, 2004; Page GZ06

Dear Extra Credit Readers:

This week, I get to ask you a question. I am sensing, from the e-mail traffic from various PTA groups, from talk in the supermarket, from teacher complaints, that the Montgomery County schools' new grading policy is causing a great deal of debate, distress and disinformation.

The new policy is designed to count work used to assess a student's progress, but not to count practice exercises. Homework no longer affects a student's grade in many circumstances. Numerical standards have also changed. Failing to turn in an assignment or completely blowing a test will not get you a zero, but no less than 50 percent, so that lapses don't leave a hole too deep that an improving student can't climb out of it.

_____About This Feature_____
Figuring out what is going on in your schools is not always easy. The accounts children bring home, though colorful, may not be entirely accurate. Notes sent home get lost. Neighborhood chatter is unreliable.

To help, Post staff writer Jay Mathews, who has been covering schools for 22 years, will answer a reader question each week -- or maybe two or three if they are easy ones.

Please send your questions -- along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number -- to Extra Credit, The Washingtom Post, 51 Monroe St., Suite 500, Rockville, Md. 20850. Or send e-mail to extracredit@washpost.com.

_____Extra Credit_____
New Grading Policy Fails to Pass Muster (The Washington Post, Nov 18, 2004)
Out-of-Class Training Time Similar for All Teachers (The Washington Post, Nov 18, 2004)
Two Days Off in June Are Insurance Against a Bad Winter (The Washington Post, Nov 11, 2004)
Montgomery Schools' Web Site Offers a Wealth of Information (The Washington Post, Nov 4, 2004)
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I want to know what puzzles, angers or pleases you about the new policy and how it is being used in this first grading period. So please send me your questions. They can even be rhetorical ones, if you want to vent your feelings.

To inspire you, I will share a recent e-mail from Matthew Boswell, a dramatic arts teacher in a Montgomery County high school. He asked me not to say which one because he wants to make it clear it is not only his school that has, in his view, a problem. If you have questions about his analysis and his point of view, they will be welcome. Here is Boswell's report:

Dear Extra Credit:

I've gathered some data on the impact of the 50 percent minimum grade policy on my own grades this quarter.

Out of 125 students, 24 students had enough missing work that the mandated grade adjustment impacted the outcome of their final grade. In other words, almost 20 percent of my students got higher grades because they didn't turn in work and subsequently had the resulting zeroes changed to 50 percent. I have not included in these numbers students who received a higher final grade because they scored below 50 percent on tests and assignments that they did turn in. More on those students later. Here is how the adjustments broke down for the students missing assignments:

E to D: 6

E to C: 3

D to C: 6

D to B: 2

C to B: 6

B to A: 1

Next, out of 125 students, only one student had enough work and tests that received a grade of less than 50 percent that the mandated grade adjustment impacted the outcome of his or her final grade, from a C to a B. There was also one student who, due to a combination of missing work and low grades, received enough of a grade adjustment to change his or her final grade, from an E to a D.

Lastly, there was one student who already had a grade change resulting from changing missing work and who received an additional grade change from adjusting scores on work that fell below a 50 percent (E to D to C).

Results of data: 26 out of 125 (or 20 percent) of my students had favorable grade adjustments due to the 50 percent minimum grade policy.

Six out of 26 students (or 23 percent) affected by the 50 percent minimum grade policy had grades that jumped by two letters because of the policy.

Sixteen out of 26 students (or 62 percent) affected by the 50 percent minimum grade policy had their grades changed, even though they weren't failing.

Only three out of 26 students (or 12 percent) affected by the 50 percent minimum grade policy had their grade changed because they tried to do the work and scored poorly on it.

Twenty-three out of 26 (or 88 percent) affected by the 50 percent minimum grade policy had their grade changed because they were given a 50 percent for work they never turned in.

Matthew Boswell

Rarely do parents, or reporters for that matter, get to see the results of grading policies in such detail. Questions, anyone?

© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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