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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May 21, 2024

MCPS grading regulations impair student performance

Regardless+of+final+exams%2C+grade-weighing+policies+and+testing+requirements+in+MCPS+create+educational+environments+overly+focused+on+assessment.
Regardless of final exams, grade-weighing policies and testing requirements in MCPS create educational environments overly focused on assessment.

In 2016, MCPS officials radically changed the county’s grading system by removing final exams. The change came after growing criticism that final and midterm exams were unequal, stressful and time-consuming methods to assess student knowledge. Although a well-intentioned response to community feedback, this change was a lazy, one-size-fits-all approach to remedying the testing problem in MCPS. Regardless of final exams, grade-weighing policies and testing requirements in MCPS create educational environments overly focused on assessment.

Two major rules contribute to a culture overly predicated on testing at MCPS secondary schools: the fact that homework assignments make up only 10% of a student’s final grade and the high threshold of tests per quarter that every teacher must administer. If MCPS officials hope to instill in students a passion for learning and a real grasp of class concepts, the MCPS Office of Curriculum and Instructional Programs must reform its grading guidelines to prioritize students’ intellectual growth over test results. 

Current grading policies fail to emphasize the true heart of learning — practice. “Practice and Preparation” assignments only make up 10% of a student’s final grade, while those graded on accuracy make up the remaining 90%. MCPS grading policies further dictate that if an assignment is in the “Practice and Preparation” category, teachers can only grade it for completion. The low weight and guaranteed high grades for “Practice and Preparation” assignments incentivize students to put minimal effort into their homework while prioritizing their tests. Although this strategy may prove effective in achieving a high grade, it does not lead to positive long-term results or real learning. 

A 2015 paper titled “Homework, Motivation, and Academic Achievement in a College Genetics Course” revealed a strong positive correlation between homework completion rates and exam success. If MCPS were to transition away from its blanket policy that designates homework as a completion grade, they could incentivize students to do more homework, allowing them to reap the benefits of its completion.

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In conjunction with homework policies, MCPS officials must also change testing standards. Students cannot learn and understand content effectively when constantly panicking over their next test. While MCPS officials sponsored their anti-testing mindset in 2016 when they eliminated final exams, they have since increased testing standards overall.

On Jan. 30, 2024, a change to MCPS grading regulation IKA-R went into effect — the regulation now mandates that secondary school teachers give their students nine assignments in the “All Tasks and Assessments” category per marking period. The category includes all assignments graded for accuracy, constituting 90% of a student’s final grade. While these nine assignments can consist of projects or other classwork, some teachers limit the category to tests, especially in classes that don’t lend themselves to projects, such as math.

In a nine-week marking period, the policy mandates that students have a test or other accuracy-graded assignment every week. Most students take seven classes, so if each one must have one test per week, that leaves students managing a rigorous course load with either near-daily tests or multiple days in a week in which they take several assessments. Constant tests decrease student motivation to learn, increase student stress and take away valuable time that could be used for instruction.

High-stakes testing affects student’s stress hormone production levels, which trickles down to affect their performance. A 2018 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that students had 15% higher cortisol levels during weeks with high-stakes tests than during non-testing weeks. The authors suggested that cortisol level changes led to worse academic outcomes, with a 10% increase in cortisol resulting in significantly lower scores, equivalent to 80 points on the 1600-point SAT scale. The MCPS system all but guarantees that every week is an assessment week, meaning these consequences are wide-reaching among the student population.

While frequent information retrieval is essential to the learning process, constant assessments are not the way to ensure students internalize the material. Information retrieval can take the form of accuracy-graded practice, projects or even closed-note discussions. A grading system that prioritizes these forms of learning over assessment maintains the benefits of tests without their significant downsides.

The same anti-testing reasoning that led MCPS officials to remove final exams should be applied to eliminate overbearing assessment requirements. Overly frequent assessment doesn’t just hurt students’ mental health and academic outcomes, it contributes to a competitive and grade-focused school culture. 

Alternative grading options communicate a commitment to student growth and learning over testing success. In the nearby Prince George’s County, grading categories vary between each subject area; for example, only 25% of a student’s grade in health class is made up of their assessment grades, while in a world language class, assessments are worth 45% of a student’s final grade. This kind of dynamic grading system is what MCPS must strive for — it prevents students from treating homework as irrelevant busywork and focusing on cramming for tests, and forces teachers to vary the accuracy-based assignments they give to their students. Mandating teachers to incorporate a variety of assignments in their classrooms would promote the trend of active learning methods, a learning methodology that has proved successful in improving student outcomes.

The purpose of a high school is to educate, and in order to provide an engaging and successful education experience, it is imperative that MCPS administrators make meaningful changes to the grading system. This means increasing the role of homework in the final grade calculation to encourage completion and reducing the role of assessments to promote healthier school cultures.

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About the Contributor
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

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