Montgomery County Public Schools leaders are leaning toward assigning second-semester grades on a pass/incomplete scale, according to a presentation to the school board on Tuesday.
The move would provide the greatest degree of equity for students with varying levels of access to technology and parental guidance while school buildings are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff members said.
On Sunday, MCPS sent a message to community members announcing a shift to pass/incomplete grading for middle and high school students, also called pass/fail by central office staff, for the fourth quarter. The message did not detail how that would affect semester grades, which usually take the average of third- and fourth-quarter letter grades to land on a final letter grade.
On Tuesday, Scott Murphy, director of MCPS’ Department of Secondary Curriculum and Districtwide Programs, said students, staff and community members have said they would prefer a pass/incomplete semester grade.
“There is no perfect system, but based on feedback we have received, the preferred option is a pass/fail system for the semester,” Murphy said. “The traditional grading systems will exacerbate inequities that are present in a traditional school setting.”
MCPS is still establishing clear criteria for what would earn a passing grade.
The idea is subject to school board approval at its next meeting on May 12.
Some community members have indicated they would prefer students be given the choice between earning a letter grade or moving to the pass/fail system. Doing so, however, might “promote traditional grading policies throughout,” which could add unnecessary pressure for students, Murphy said. So, MCPS employees are recommending a universal system for all students.
If the school board approves the pass/incomplete grading for the second semester, Superintendent Jack Smith said, MCPS is determining how students who do not pass can make up work, which could include summer learning.
Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced last week that schools would remain closed at least through May 15 because of the coronavirus pandemic – one month before the last day of classes is scheduled in Montgomery County.
Schools across the state have been closed since March 16.
Elementary school students also won’t receive letter grades for the fourth marking period.
Instead, the school system wrote in its Sunday message, “the emphasis will be on engaging students in learning experiences and connecting with and engaging as many students as possible.” This will include making sure teachers communicate with students and parents on “identified areas of concern” and giving teachers information on skills that students need to work on.
MCPS teachers are not taking daily attendance as they would if students were in school buildings, but are focusing on ensuring students log on to their classes each day. If they notice students are not engaging in classes, staff members contact parents to determine why and how the school district can help.
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