A Message from Superintendent Jack R. Smith on Grading and Assessment
In case you missed it, be sure to read a message from Superintendent Jack Smith on grading and reporting policies. This message was emailed to staff on Monday, Jan. 7.
As you may have read or heard, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) grading and assessment policies have been a subject of discussion in the media over the last several weeks. While we regularly discuss grading and reporting, including a robust discussion at the December 4, 2018, Board of Education meeting, I am reaching out to you directly to share some key points and context about grading and assessment in our school system.
The purpose of a classroom grade is to serve as a reflection of what students know and have learned. But grades are only one measure and must also be viewed in the context of multiple measures for student learning. For instance, measurements like ACT, SAT, AP/IB, district measures, career certifications, and state assessments each “provide valuable information because they measure different aspects of student performance and potential.” Through our Evidence of Learning Framework, we use these measures collectively to gauge the progress of all students.
Across the nation, school systems are grappling with this issue as they work to ensure this purpose is met for every student, in every classroom of their schools. MCPS has been a leader and innovator in working toward this shared purpose.
For those of you who worked in MCPS in the two decades prior to my arrival in July 2016, you are likely aware that policies and protocols about grading and reporting changed significantly during that time period. As this memo outlines, there have been a series of changes that have impacted grading since 2000, including administering districtwide Algebra 1 final examinations; the adoption of the Maryland College and Career Ready Standards; a transition to more frequent, standards-aligned progress checks; allowing students to retake a high school course for a replacement grade (Drop and Replace); and revising the semester grade calculations for high school courses to remove the downward trend calculation and replace it with a mathematical grade calculation.
Recent data for the Class of 2018 show that there has been an increase in the number of A’s awarded to students. This increase has led some to express concern that grade inflation is taking place in our schools. It is important to note that two changes in particular (transition to progress checks and Drop and Replace) impacted the Class of 2018, as the changes were implemented during their tenure in high school.
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.
Since 2016, we have been consistently monitoring outcomes of grading and assessment practices, in relation to the other measures, to ensure they accurately reflect student learning. We have and continue to be prepared to recommend adjustments based on our findings.
Recently, MCPS partnered with Montgomery College to explore the impact of using students’ grades in selected MCPS courses to determine placement in credit-bearing courses in lieu of using the ACCUPLACER (college entrance/placement exam to determine whether students should be placed in credit-bearing courses). 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. The ACCUPLACER, as a single test measure, may have placed these same students in a remedial class based on a single test score.
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. It is also possible that the previous model for final exams and downward trend calculation grading suppressed student outcomes and that current grades better reflect student learning. Data from 2013 show how the final exam model did and did not affect outcomes for students. Based on this data, returning to the aforementioned model would be a mistake. It should be noted that there is nothing preventing a teacher from giving a summative final classroom assessment if they believe it will benefit student progress in learning. Moreover, there may be factors unrelated to policy, including improved teacher practices and better access to real-time student data, that created a foundation for student improvement. Our ongoing analysis will help us determine if any of these possibilities are supported by evidence.
There are dozens of grading systems in schools across the country and research shows none is perfect. What we do know is that grading must be centered on what is best to assess student learning. MCPS will continue to monitor the impact of our policies and practices to reflect this goal.
Jack. R. Smith, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools