Grades are an integral part of school that most high school students take seriously. When Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) new, more lenient grading policy was introduced in 2015, many students rejoiced at the idea that an A semester grade would be much easier to obtain than before. However, this is not necessarily good news. The grading policy should revert to its more balanced approach because this new policy leads to grade inflation, which in turn may give students a false sense of proficiency in a certain subject.

Under MCPS’ new grading policy that came into effect during the 2014-15 school year, a semester grade of an A is obtainable if a student earns an A in both quarters of the semester or an A first quarter and a B second quarter and vice versa. This was not possible under the old grading system, in which students’ semester grades were determined based upon the quarterly trend—for example, if a student earned an A first quarter and a B second quarter, the semester grade would be a B. Additionally, final exam grades were factored in. However, under the new policy, final exams were completely eliminated in favor of fewer assessments.

New data released in September shows a large increase in the number of A semester grades across MCPS, which is particularly pronounced in math classes—from the 2015-16 school year to the 2017-18 school year, the percentage of As in all math classes doubled from 16 to 32 percent. This, however, is not necessarily a sign that students are learning the material. The rigor of math classes has dropped since the removal of final exams under the new grading policy, math department head Marcus Wiggins said.

Some students are likely achieving As in classes that they previously could not have gotten an A in. Factor in the removal of final exams, and many students may be coming out of those classes with a false sense of achievement and proficiency that may come back to haunt them in higher-level classes.

More troubling, however, is the thought that students’ work ethic in college and beyond may be damaged by the relative ease of getting an A as a semester grade. When evaluating applications, colleges usually look at semester grades and only use quarterly grades as “puzzle pieces” to help them discern patterns and trends in students’ academics, according to college admissions counseling company College Confidential. Some students earn a desirable grade for the first quarter, then slack off second quarter, as their semester grade would not be impacted if they get one letter grade lower than the previous quarter. This can be damaging to those students’ work ethic in the future because they will grow accustomed to the cycle of working hard first quarter, then slacking second quarter.

Though students may prefer the easier approach to scoring As as semester grades, they will still run into final exams in college, as the large majority of colleges still employ final exams in all of their classes. Preparing students for this experience while still in high school would be beneficial as they would learn strategies and timing for taking finals that they could use for future college-level exams.

In the immediate future, more As sounds great to any student.  But under closer consideration, the costs far outweigh the benefits.  


Correction: The the new curriculum was implemented in the 2015-2016 school year, not 2014-2015 as initially reported.