Equalizing education: The debate over grading policies

Michelle Wang, Opinion Editor

Grading policies vary by level, whether that be Standard, Honors, GT or AP. Therein lies the debate on how to equally distribute and standardize grades. The guiding text behind BCPS’s grading policies is the BCPS Grading and Reporting Procedures Manual, a 58-page document outlining all county grading recommendations. Two of the most noteworthy policies are the redo policy and the 50-point grading system. 

Regarding a county-wide redo policy, the manual encourages teachers to allow for redos and reassessments on most assignments other than major tests given that it is an effective and research-based approach. 

Alicia Drechsler, an English teacher at Dulaney describes her grading policy for her GT and Standard classes to be the same. Her redo policy allows redos on nearly every minor assignment. Several teachers have reached a consensus that redos are beneficial but have downsides. James Anderson, who teaches GT Physics and Standard Integrated Physics and Chemistry notes that redos have contributed to grade inflation, particularly at the upper ends of the grading scale.

“The redo policy is good in that I think it takes some pressure off students, they don’t feel they need to do their best the first time. But it’s also bad that I’ve seen students turn in bare minimum something, knowing that they’re going to redo it later,” said Anderson.

According to Jason Bowman, the English Department chair who teaches Honors English 12 and Film Appreciation and Criticism, there is now a greater negotiation over grades through increased redos and opportunities to earn back points. 

Another major policy contributing to the grade variance is the 50-point policy. This policy is also known interchangeably as the 50% or LS policy which operates on a 50-point grading scale rather than out of 100. This policy was implemented in the 2016-2017 school year as a BCPS recommendation and was adopted by Dulaney. This scale allows for each letter grade to be assigned the same 10-point value meaning that an E-range is from 50-59 rather than 0-59 and a 60% or higher is a passing grade. Assignments and tests that receive the lowest score (LS) are therefore entered as 50%. When asking teachers about their opinion of this grading scale, the response has generally been positive.

Anderson supports the policy as it gives students a chance to succeed and eliminates 59% of the score which would otherwise deem a student as failing. However, along with its advantages are some drawbacks. 

“I think the 50% policy is as good except for the fact that it allows students to, depending on the teacher, turn in a lot of stuff kind of last minute, or do like the bare minimum just to get by,” said Anderson. 

However, the 50% policy is up to the teachers’ discretion, with a debate about whether a student should earn an LS without turning in an assignment.

“My opinion is, you have to turn something in to earn an LS… But if you don’t turn anything in, to me, that’s a zero, that’s a missing,” said Drechsler. 

In theory, the 50% policy decreases the number of failing students and perhaps contributes to grade inflation. However, grade distribution has largely remained the same even after the policy. Marci Phillips who teaches both AP Biology and Standard Biology expressed that the LS grading policy did not make a significant impact on the grading population.

Bowman offers a different perspective and states that while the grade distribution in his classes have remained largely the same, he speculates that grades across the board could have skewed upwards with a higher proportion at either extremes, such as As and Es, as a result of COVID learning. He adds that each teacher’s approach to grading makes more of an impact than county or school-wide policies.

There is one exception to these policies: AP classes. AP teachers can utilize a different grading policy, grade on a curve and assign different percent variations of major and minor grades. 

“AP teachers do not have to follow the letter of the BCPS grading policy. And I think the reason is AP is trademarked by the College Board, they have their own curricula, students get college credit for it,” said Bowman.

So while the manual does not recommend giving extra credit or grading on a curve, AP classes do not need to abide by that.