Andrew Coulibaly, Opinion Managing Editor

In light of a Sept. 22 article in the Washington Post about possible grade inflation, critics have voiced concerns that the Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) Board of Education’s (BOE) 2015 grading policy decreases the value of high letter grades by causing grade inflation. The county should maintain that policy, as grade inflation does not necessarily harm students.  

In 2015, the BOE voted unanimously to remove final exams and create a more lenient grading system. The standardized tests were removed and students were left taking only the county-created shorter “quarterly assessments” in select classes. Taking fewer assessments–ones that many students found pointless–is a benefit to students since they can spend more time learning and less time testing.

In addition to the removal of finals, a more flexible grading system was implemented.  Now, if a student receives an A in a class and gets a B the next quarter, their semester grade will still be an A.  This was not the case prior to the update, as semester grades used to be determined based upon the quarterly trend that grades followed. The new policy has led to a 16 percent increase in the number of As given between 2015 and the current school year in math classes, according to the Sept. 22 article from the Washington Post.

Concerns are rising throughout the county that college admissions officers will view the removal of final exams and new grading system as a sign that MCPS’ rigor and expectations are lower, in turn harming students’ competitive edge when applying to colleges.

However, this phenomenon, commonly known as grade inflation, is only one part of the overall admissions process, minimizing its overall effects. Top Ivy League colleges like Harvard University look at candidates holistically, as seen in the recent court case dissecting Harvard’s admissions process. Admissions officers there want to know a student’s growth potential, character and what they can contribute, according to the Harvard admissions website. Most colleges also compare students’ grade point averages (GPAs) to their standardized test scores and compare students to their peers.

While there is validity to critics’ views that students may struggle with final exams since they no longer take them in high school, there is also an important point being ignored: students still have to take and do well on a standardized test. Furthermore, even if people feel this grade inflation could harm student’s acquisition of knowledge, they are forgetting there is no fooling a standardized test. A student’s knowledge will be tested on ACTs, SATs, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate final exams. There is no soft grading policy when it comes to those tests.

MCPS continues to offer one of the most rigorous curriculums in the country. It is widely recognized as an educational system that creates curriculums that stimulate students, according to a curriculum review Johns Hopkins School of Education conducted in March 2018.

“MCPS has a longstanding history of designing and implementing instructional materials that challenge students, empowers educators, and narrows achievement gaps,” according to the Johns Hopkins review.

The policy implemented in 2015 likely caused some grade inflation; however, its effects are limited and students do have opportunities that will help them prepare themselves for a university. Now, instead of overtesting students, teachers can focus more attention on teaching students material. Then instead of those students taking exams which vary from school to school, all students will still have to demonstrate their knowledge on tried and tested exams created by the College Board and the International Baccalaureate foundation.