Montgomery Co. board gives students a choice for 4th-quarter grades

Montgomery County’s Board of Education voted to give high school seniors the option of either taking a letter grade, or getting a “pass” or “incomplete” for the fourth quarter.

And, if they opt for the letter grade, the plan is to increase that by one letter grade.

The idea, said members of the board, was to “do no harm” at a time when students, teachers and their parents faced uncertainty as the spread of the new coronavirus became a pandemic.

The board considered five options:

  1. Give all students a pass or incomplete.
  2. Make the fourth-quarter grade the same as the third-quarter grade for all students.
  3. Issue letter grades to all students, but bump that to one grade higher than the third-quarter grade.
  4. Allow students to opt for a letter grade or the pass/incomplete option.
  5. Allow students to opt for a letter grade, which would be bumped up by one grade, or take the pass/incomplete option.

The vote was 7-1, with board member Judith Docca supporting option 3.

Board member Patricia O’Neill said of the decision, “There is no perfect solution. Every school system in the country is grappling with grading issues.”

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Nathan Tinbite, the student member of the board, said allowances should be made for students who faced challenges in obtaining technology to engage in online learning.

Every student faced hurdles of their own, he said. “Honestly, there is no legitimate meritocracy in this pandemic,” Tinbite said, “and we really do need to look out for our most vulnerable students.”

Like the distance learning that put teachers and students in Zoom classrooms, the board’s meeting was held via Zoom, and public testimony was taken online as well.

Jillian Vordick, a junior at Walter Johnson High School, objected to boosting grades by one letter. She supported option 2 as a better way to reflect a student’s actual academic performance.

“Why should the Board of Education be handing out grades to students who did not earn them?” she asked.

Aaron Wong, a junior at Winston Churchill High School, said 1,000 students signed a petition that would give students a choice: the letter grade or pass/incomplete.

“Such choice takes into account every student’s unique situation during this pandemic,” Wong said.

The board also voted on how to handle grading for elementary and middle school students.

Elementary school students would see their grades for the first three marking periods combined to generate the fourth quarter grade.

The concept would be the same for middle school students, who would then see that final grade bumped up by one letter grade.

Due to action by the Maryland State Board of Education, school systems have until Jan. 21 to make changes to grades.

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