Photo Courtesy of Faith Cheung
On Tuesday, May 12, the Montgomery County Board of Education held a virtual business meeting.
During the meeting, the Board voted on the final semester’s grading and reporting plan for the 2019-2020 school year. After careful deliberation, the BoE announced that the students were to be graded on a “course-by-course basis.” All high school students may choose between either receiving a final semester grade that is one letter grade higher than their third quarter grade or receiving a “pass.” Students may select either option as long as they meet the required “pass” criteria in their courses.
If a student opts to receive a final semester grade, their final semester grade will be reported on their high school transcript and factored into their GPA. If a student chooses the “pass” option as their semester grade, the “pass” will not be factored into their GPA.
“Students… want something that is not only fair amongst them and their colleagues, but [rather] something that would make them competitive in the college applications process,” Student Member of the Board Nate Tinbite said via the broadcasted Zoom.
However, other students believe that colleges will be conscious of the pandemic’s impacts when students apply. “Colleges will probably be aware that this batch of students had to go through this whole pandemic,” freshman Julianne Cruz said via text. “The grading systems may not have been perfect.”
Before establishing the final grading plan, the Board considered four concepts for students’ final semester grade: a universal Pass/Incomplete, a final letter grade equal to students’ third quarter grades, a final grade one letter grade higher than their third quarter grades, or the option to choose between a letter grade or a Pass/Incomplete.
The third and fourth concepts were ultimately combined: students receiving a final letter grade equal to students’ third quarter grades and the option to receive a letter grade or a Pass/Incomplete.
During the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith expressed his belief that MCPS has the resources to build a smooth grade reporting process. “We’re all in the same place. We’ve got to figure this out, we’ve got to err on the sides of students,” Smith said. “We have the mechanism to [make] it relatively direct in terms of how students will indicate their preference for a grade, and provide that back to teachers in a way that won’t be overly complicated.”
Due to the emergency school closure, the Board adopted a 21-credit high school graduation requirement for the class of 2020. The Board also unanimously voted to suspend academic eligibility requirements for extracurricular activities during the fourth quarter of the 2019-2020 school year and the first quarter of the 2020-2021 school year, so that students may continue to virtually participate in extracurriculars.
“I think this is consistent and given the extenuating circumstances, I think this is appropriate,” Board Member Patricia O’Neill said.
RM students also expressed their support for the semester grading system. “Personally, I’m okay with the new grading system. I think MCPS has done a good job making sure everyone has a chance to do well,” Cruz added.
During the virtual meeting, the Board also considered public comments about other possible courses of action. The BoE decided on academic matters unrelated to COVID-19, including the confirmation of principal appointments and planning of the 2020-2021 school year’s budget.
In addition, the Board unanimously approved a new pilot LGBTQ+ course, the first ever course of its kind in the nation.
According to a school board document, the course “aims to bring acceptance, support, and a stronger sense of shared community among students of all sexual and gender identities.” Over the next two school years, the course will be piloted at ten different high schools as an elective available to juniors and seniors.
“We’ve worked very hard on this issue and trying to get these conversations and programs going through its special populations, so I’m very excited to see it come together,” Board Member Rebecca Smondrowski said. “It’s been a long time coming.”