The MCPS 50 percent rule inadequately prepares students for the future


Graphic by Sabrina Mei

Montgomery County Public Schools' 50 percent grading policy ensures that students who put at least some effort into an assignment cannot receive below a 50 percent grade.

Rohan Dewan, Opinions Writer

Implemented over a decade ago, Montgomery County Public Schools’ (MCPS) 50 percent grading policy has never failed to spark controversy. The most recent debate involves a decision made by Winston Churchill High School at the beginning of the school year to prohibit teachers from ever assigning a grade below 50 percent, no matter the conditions. Although Churchill’s principal, Brandice Heckert, has since retracted their “no-zero” policy, many wonder about the future of the county’s grading rules. In an interview with the Churchill Observer, Heckert claimed she reversed the decision and said, “It was a false interpretation of a policy on my end.”

The MCPS 50 percent rule states that if a student puts effort into an assignment but answers less than half of the questions correctly, a teacher cannot assign a grade lower than 50 percent. The rule has helped students avoid failing classes over the last 10 years, boosting report card grades across the county. However, it creates a problem, in that grades are being skewed and students who should otherwise not be passing classes and graduating, are getting class credit and their diplomas.

Students are under the misconception that the rule is beneficial to them. They feel it helps them forge a successful path through life when in reality, it instills unhealthy habits and a poor work ethic that are hard to resolve later on. When students always have a “safety net” to fall back on, they develop the idea that the little work they put in always results in passing grades.

Students who consistently rely on the policy in order to evade failing a class experience difficulties in the transition to post-secondary education. When they apply the same logic to college courses, their professors do not hesitate to fail them as stated in the “Academic Regulations” of the University of Maryland (UMD). UMD professors are permitted to give any grade they desire based on performance and observation. The MCPS policy does not adequately prepare students to deal with the harsh realities of the world, creating a group of individuals that feel everything will come to them and they will not suffer any severe consequences in life.

Teachers at RM feel the rule forces them to pass students that have no understanding of their course material. The 50 percent rule bumps students who would be receiving failing grades, such as a 31 percent, to a passing grade, such 60 percent. This graduates students who should not be graduating. Although this may help them achieve a high school diploma, if these students pursue higher education, they will struggle and fail in a more high-stakes environment.

The 50 percent rule represents the grade inflation phenomenon that is rapidly infecting the entire country. MCPS has been guilty of this by instituting semester grading and eliminating final exams.. It makes achieving high grades too easy for students, making GPAs less impactful to college admissions officers.

Additionally, MCPS is extremely vague when it comes to portions of its grading policy. Online, it states, “If a teacher determines the student did not attempt to meet basic requirements of the task/assessment or the student engaged in academic dishonesty, the teacher may assign a zero.”

Through the use of the word “may” instead of “will,” MCPS merely suggests, rather than requires, that teachers should assign zeros to incomplete work. And “basic requirements” creates room for interpretation as well. Schools may consider “basic requirements” to be putting your name on a paper, resulting in the Churchill incident. While the high school’s rule was quickly rolled back for deviating from countywide policy, it demonstrates that this may be happening elsewhere in the county

Some teachers at RM feel that they can be pressured by parents and other staff to raise a student’s grade by applying no-zero policies, even if they did no work on certain assignments. Students who are below the line to graduate are sometimes pushed over the edge by these practices. “I know there are some schools that really look at it liberally, like if you put your name on an assignment and don’t do anything you get 50 percent. That is not how we do it here at RM,” principal Damon Monteleone said.

If one were to look at their teachers’ syllabi typically handed out at the start of a semester, they would see the phrase “At Richard Montgomery, we defined ‘attempted to meet the basic requirement’ as ‘The assignment was started and the work the student has produced shows evidence of making progress on the relevant standard(s) that are being assessed regardless of product or accuracy.’”

The nebulous nature of the RM policy permits people who put in laughable amounts of work to get 50 percent grades on tests and assignments. And while no schools explicitly or publicly claim they institute a “no-zero” policy, things can often happen indirectly in the background.

Due to the extreme confusion caused by the current MCPS grading policy, the county is reconsidering its grading policy. “The school system is going to be putting out a new grading reporting policy in two parts. One part this summer and one part next summer. And they will be looking at everything,” Mr. Monteleone said. Since there are so many loopholes and ranges for interpretation of the 50 percent rule, MCPS needs to seriously re-evaluate its grading policies.

In order to help students foster successful lives, they should do away with the rule completely. As the country trends towards grade inflation, MCPS needs to stand up to resist. Inflating grades negatively impacts both students and the school system by not preparing children for the harsh realities of the world.