The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

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The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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June 19, 2024

Change to guidelines of 50 percent rule marks shift in MCPS grading trends

Anna Yuan
The new rule, to go into effect in the second semester in MCPS, allows teachers to give students zeros for missing work provided that they contact the student’s guardians.

This marking period, Whitman administrators began to roll out through department meetings a revised, county-wide grading policy, including new guidance regarding the current “50 percent” rule. The new guidance, to go into effect in the second semester in MCPS, allows teachers to give students zeros for missing work provided that they contact the student’s guardians. Previously, MCPS administrators expected teachers to participate in two-way communication before assigning a zero, meaning they had to contact the student’s guardian and receive a response.

The change shortens the steps between a student missing an assignment and their receiving a zero and may substantially change the culture surrounding the 50 percent rule. The English department was the first at Whitman to receive the new guidance via a summary sheet at their department meeting on Dec. 18. Administrators across MCPS are now circulating similar guides as the second semester approaches. In addition to the guidance change to the zero rule, the new grading policy includes a commitment to clear reassessment opportunities and consistent grading between different sections of a class.

Following the announcement, the Montgomery County Education Association entered into negotiations with MCPS to ensure that teachers would not be reprimanded for potentially violating a mid-year change. MCPS officials agreed to continue the rollout but with teacher “coaching” as the aim until the 2024-2025 school year, MCEA confirmed in an email to members. Then, compliance will be mandatory.

In 2006, MCPS first introduced the 50 percent rule, which prevented students from getting zeros except in specific circumstances. Under this rule, teachers must award a grade of 50 percent or higher on every submitted assignment. Designed to boost students who choose to rebuild their grades, the rule has become a common one across U.S. public school districts.

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In 2016, MCPS officials further altered the grading system by removing midterms and finals, significantly changing how semester grades were calculated. Rather than using finals in conjunction with quarter performance, semester grades would be calculated solely based on quarter letter grades, rounding up to the higher mark if necessary. The change meant that a student could earn an A in one quarter and a B in the other while still receiving a semester A.

English teacher Matthew Bruneel believes that the county’s lenient policies have inflated grades and allowed students to put in minimal work while still receiving passing marks.

“The 50 percent rule allowed some students who turned in just one or two key assignments for the whole quarter and did nothing else to get a passing score,” Bruneel said. “That, combined with the grade calculations from quarter one to quarter two, and how that calculates into semester grade, did make it very easy for a student to do pretty much nothing for an entire quarter and still come out with a C or maybe even a B.”

Although more stringent grading policies give high marks more value, they also increase school-wide competition when students are already stressed, junior Maya Cohen said.

“As my classes have gotten harder, lenient grading policies have relieved so much stress because I don’t need to constantly be thinking about getting a quarter A in order to maintain that semester A,” Cohen said. “It’s really a question of whether you want a more accurate reading of students’ abilities or whether you want to relieve a little bit of student stress.”

While the new changes will go into effect in the upcoming semester, junior Graham Rogers is skeptical that the system-wide changes will affect his grades. Even before the guidance change, Rogers said teachers gave him zeros without two-way communication.

“If teachers forget to grade something, or you didn’t turn in the work or missed a deadline, it’s an automatic zero from a lot of the teachers I know,” Rogers said. “I have never heard of them emailing my parents, or have had my parents tell me that they were emailed.”

The policy of two-way communication wasn’t explicitly written in MCPS’ grading “IKA-RA” regulation, but officials set it as an expectation through grading guidelines from central office staff. According to Bruneel, it’s difficult for administrators to track and enforce the grading rules because it would require digging through the gradebook and interviewing teachers.

Regardless of any changes in grading policy, a myriad of components contribute to the climate and work ethic among students, Bruneel said.

“I think that there are a lot of factors that contribute to a shift in the way that students treat school. I think that the grading policy is one of them, but I don’t think it’s the only one,” Bruneel said. “I would say that overall, grades mean less than they used to.”

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About the Contributors
Rebecca Waldman
Rebecca Waldman, Opinion Writer
Grade 11 Why did you join The B&W? I wanted to report on the issues that impact our community and write stories that make a difference. What is your favorite board game? Clue
Anna Yuan
Anna Yuan, Online Managing Editor
Grade 12 Why did you join the Black and White? I love to write, and reporting for the Black & White has exposed me to new perspectives from which I've learned from. Also, I love being a part of the Black & White community. What's your favorite scent?

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  • R

    Reirin Alheidis Gumbel, Milwaukee Zen CenterJan 31, 2024 at 6:29 pm

    I have spent the last three years of my life at a Buddhist monastery in Milwaukee. I am allowed to access the internet once every year, and I’m so thankful that I used my 47 seconds of time online to read this article. Not only did I find it incredibly informative on the state of grading at Richard Montgomery High School, it was so well-written that it helped me on my path to achieving nirvana. Reading this article made the sound of one hand clapping. Thank you for your contribution, Rebecca Waldman. May Ashtar bless your soul, and go Packers!

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    Gregory ShawJan 31, 2024 at 4:27 pm

    I hate the new rule for Walt Whitman high school