Montgomery County Public schools addresses grade inflation concerns from policy changes

Following changes made to Montgomery County Public Schools' grading policy over two years ago, school Superintendent Jack Smith issued a letter addressing concerns of grade inflation brought on by the changes.

The district changed their system grading policy beginning with the 2016-2017 school year. One of the biggest changes was the elimination of traditional final exams.

The board made the changes amid widespread concerns about overtesting and a loss of instructional time. Instead, the new policy said that a student's final course grades will be rounded up from the average of their quarterly grades.

"The purpose of a classroom grade is to serve as a reflection of what students know and have learned," said school Superintendent Jack Smith in the letter.

The Washington Post reports that the percentage of "A's in core math courses in the county nearly doubled from the first semester of 2014-2015 to last school year, soaring from 16 percent to almost 32 percent, according to district data."

They say there were also an increase of high marks for English and science classes.

However, parents and community members have been concerned by the changes, with the average of the two grades not being an accurate representation of student performance.

"It is possible that the changes in our grading and assessment practices have unintentionally led to grades that are not as reflective of student learning as we intended," admits Smith.

"We take concerns about grade inflation seriously. When grade inflation takes place, it creates a false sense of success for some students and a false sense of failure for others."

Smith says changes were made to the grading policy to be a better indicator of student's potential versus how they achieved on a test.

"Grades are only one measure and must also be viewed in the context of multiple measures for student learning," he said.

Smith said that the county has been working with Montgomery College to asses if grades could be a good indicator for student achievement, compared other college course placement exams.

"For these students, the grades assigned by their teacher have been a better predictor of their potential to achieve success in a credit-bearing course."

He also addresses other possible factors that have lead to the supposed grade inflation, "including improved teacher practices and better access to real time student data."

Smith says that the county will continue to monitor the impact of school grading policies and practices.

Educational research analyst Michael Petrilli, president of Thomas B. Fordham Institute told the Washington Post that the grading changes could impact how students perform in the long run.

"The real challenge is that if it becomes very easy to get an A, we worry that students aren't going to work as hard -- and we know that more effort leads to greater learning," he said. "We may not be doing students any favors by giving them more A's," he said.