MCPS Evidence of Learning, Transition from Semester Exams to Quarterly Measures, Grading and Reporting

Frequently Asked Questions

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  1. How are semester grades calculated?

    Expand/Collapse Answer

    As a result of the changes to semester exams and implementation of quarterly measures, there have also been changes to the way a semester grade is calculated in high school courses, starting in 2016-2017 school year. MCPS staff gathered extensive feedback from school and community stakeholders, including colleges and universities, and examined the grading practices of various school districts in deciding how grades will be calculated going forward. MCPS will continue to use a letter grade system and calculate the semester grade as follows:

    District Assessments 

    • In certain courses, MCPS Progress Checks, district created formative assessments that are used primarily as formative measures, or assessments for learning, will be given once each quarter and weighted 10% of each marking period grade.  In many cases, these progress measures will be administered online, similar to other external tests that students take in the Information Age.  Common Writing Tasks will also be given as literacy measures.  These measures are intended to inform day-to-day instruction and provide feedback to students regarding their performance toward meeting standards.  Progress Checks and Writing Tasks will be given in certain courses in English, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), and mathematics.  Common Writing Tasks will also be piloted in science and social studies.  
    • Effective in the 2017-2018 school year:  Required quarterly assessments (RQA) in science, social studies, world languages, and technology have been eliminated.

    Semester Grade Calculation

    • The separate final exam grade on the student report card has been removed, effective since the 2016-2017 school year.
    • Similar to current semester grade calculations for courses in which there is no final exam, the semester grade is calculated using the letter grades from each marking period.
    • For all high school courses, the semester grade is calculated by averaging the letter grade for each marking period, using a “quality point” assignment (A = 4, B =3, C = 2, D = 1, E = 0).
    • The semester grade calculation for high school courses uses the same quality point calculation that is used in middle school courses and in summer school. At the secondary level, alignment of grading guidelines will bring more consistency to student grades in the district.
    • The MCPS grading calculation tables remain nearly the same, except in a few situations where the average replaces the practice of assigning grades based on a downward trend. An updated grading table follows.


    Letters indicate MP1 MP2 = Semester Grade

    AA = A BA = A CA = B DA = B EA = C
    AB = A* BB = B CB = B DB = C EB = C
    AC = B  BC = B* CC = C DC = C EC = D
    AD = B* BD = C CD = C* DD = D ED = D
    AE = C BE = C* CE = D DE = E EE = E
    MP1—Grade for first marking period of the semester; MP2—Grade for second marking period of the semester All calculations in the table above are the same as the current high school grading table, except where marked with *

    This new grading calculation aligns with standards-based approaches to assessment and college expectations and provides a grading structure that is fair, consistent, and understandable for students and parents.


    Does the new grading calculation inflate grades?

    Expand/Collapse Answer

    The change in semester grade calculation is based on extensive feedback from school and community stakeholders. There was near-universal agreement about removing the downward trend of the previous grading system (for example, AB=B). Grading calculations vary widely among school districts in the United States and there is no perfect or preferred method of grade calculation. Eliminating the practice of using a downward trend to calculate semester grades in favor of quality point averaging provides an approach that is fair, consistent, and understandable to students and parents. It should be noted that the quality point average is used in other school districts and also is currently used in MCPS to calculate final grades in middle school courses.

    By using the quality point average and equally weighting each marking period grade, the majority of MCPS semester grade calculations remain exactly the same as the previous grading table, resulting in limited changes. By calculating semester grades with quality points as opposed to trend, the result is a rounding up in limited cases. The grade that is recorded on the student transcript is the final semester grade of A,B,C,D, or E, calculated from the two marking period grades. For cumulative GPA calculation, there are no changes to the way GPA is calculated. Only the final semester grade of A,B,C,D, or E is used. “Half points” or increments of .5 are not used in GPA calculation. See additional information about GPA in #14 below.

    It is also important to note that in high school courses that previously had a countywide exam, standardized quarterly assessments will count for a required 10% of each marking period grade, providing greater consistency throughout the district to student grades during a marking period. Regardless of the specific grading system used, colleges note that the centralized nature of the MCPS curriculum and assessment program will continue to provide students with the competitive edge for college admission and rigorous preparation for success in college and careers.



    Why were two-hour final exams replaced with quarterly measures?

    Expand/Collapse Answer

    By replacing end-of-semester two-hour final exams with marking period assessments, we will better serve our students by increasing instructional time, using formative assessment data throughout the school year to inform instruction, allowing students to receive timely supports and interventions, and providing students with more frequent and varied measures to demonstrate learning. Our goal is to use our assessments to measure what our students are and are not learning so that teachers can adjust and improve instruction to make sure every student understands and masters the material.

    It also is important to note that over the past two years, students, parents, teachers, principals, the Board of Education, and community members have voiced strong concerns about the amount of testing in all grade levels and the need to increase instructional time. This plan restores more than two weeks of instruction used for the final exam schedule each year.

    District assessments will be given quarterly certain core course that previously had a districtwide exam and count for 10 percent of a student's marking period grade, consistently across the district. The assessments will measure cumulative content knowledge and skills that build over the course of an instructional unit, marking period, or semester. 

    This evidence of learning strategy ensures that students are taking assessments during the marking period that are meaningful, rigorous, available to students and parents, and tied more closely to the instructional cycle to improve student learning. 



    How does this increase instructional time?

    Expand/Collapse Answer

    Before 2016, tow-hour high school final exams were administered during half-day schedules (one week each semester), in which students took 2 two-hour exams in the morning and are released to go home in the middle of the day.  As a result, students and teachers will regain more than town weeks of instructional time that were previously used for half-day exam schedules, in addition to review time and make-up testing.    



    How does this help teachers, students, and parents?

    Expand/Collapse Answer

    In the past, students would take a two-hour exam at the end of the semester in their class and not have the opportunity to receive feedback from the teacher regarding their performance,  Students would often learn about their exam performance by letter grade on a report card, when the report card was distributed.  Teachers would not be able to use the assessment information in actionable ways to support student learning.  Parents and students did not routinely have an opportunity to review the performance on the exam, without making a formal request to the school and making an appointment to review the exam with the teacher weeks later.  With district assessments given during a unit of instruction, teachers will be able to use the assessment information to help with instruction the next day or the next week, and provide students with immediate feedback to support their learning.  Specific feedback on these assessment will also go home for parents to see and to facilitate communication with the teacher.      



    Does this increase the workload on students or teachers?

    Expand/Collapse Answer

    Required formative, quarterly, and common assessments, which teachers are currently grading, are already build into the curriculum in most of the courses that have final exams.  The making period assessments will not be an add-on, but part of the curriculum and authentic instructional cycle.  



    Will students be prepared for college?

    Expand/Collapse Answer

    Absolutely.  It is essential that this assessment strategy evolves to ensure that students are taking assessments during the marking period that are meaningful, rigorous, available to students and rents, and tied more closely to the instructional cycle to improve student learning.  This approach also aligns with current practices in higher education, where student in college are asked to apply cumulative learning through multiple measures such as test, papers, research, and projects.  It is important to note that students take many multiple-hour college-level exams throughout their school careers, beginning in 3rd grade through high school.  High school exams include Advanced Placement (AP) exams; International Baccalaureate (IB) exams; PSAT; SAT; ACT; and ACCUPLACER, among other.  Students also will take PARCC or HSA tests in certain grade levels and core courses.  Each subject area PARCC test takes about four hours over two days to administer.  In addition, like final exams, marking period assessments will continue to mea sure cumulative student learning over time and mirror what students might experience in college and the real world.  Marking period assessments will be fully aligned to state and national measures.



    If MCPS wants to reduce the testing load on students, then why not eliminate PARCC exams or High School Assessments instead?

    Expand/Collapse Answer

    Federal and state mandates require that standardized assessments such as the PARCC and HSA exams continue for accountability purposes.  The Maryland State Department of Education has requested that school districts review their local assessment programs to find ways to reduce testing and increase instructional time.  For MCPS, the two-hour semester exams offer the best opportunity to reduce the testing burden and regain more than two weeks of instructional time during the school year. 



    Are other school districts eliminating final exams?

    Expand/Collapse Answer

    Yes.  Because of the concerns of educators, parents, and students, school districts across the United States are taking steps to reduce the number and amount of assessments.  Local school boards in Loudoun County, Anne Arundel County, Frederick County, and others have taken recent actions to eliminate semester final exams.  Several other school districts offer teacher developed final exams, not centrally developed finals.  Trends in higher education also reflect a growing movement toward project=based assessments, research projects, or other alternative cumulative assessments that take varied forms other than multiple choice and short answer tests.  It has become common practice in colleges and universities for professors to assign projects, research papers, or other assessments as alternatives to traditional final exams.  This approach aligns with a recent Council of the Great City Schools report.  Student Testing in America's Great City Schools:  An inventory and Preliminary Analysis, and the Obama administration recommendations to reduce the amount of state and local testing  The Obama Administration Action Plan class for "fewer and smarter" assessments that are "worth taking, high quality, time limited, fair measures, fully transparent to students and parents just one of multiple measures, and tied to improved learning. "The governor of Maryland recently convened a work group to review state and local assessment programs with the goal of increasing instructional time and reducing the amount of student testing.



    Are there any changes to the way cumulative grade point average (GPA) is calculated on a student transcript? 

    Expand/Collapse Answer

    No.  The grade that is recorded on the student transcript is the final semester grade of A,B,C,D, or E, calculated from the two marking period grades. For GPA calculation, grade points or weighted grade points are used.  There are no half points or .5 increments used.  Grade points are the numeric equivalent of a student's grade in a credit-bearing course according to the following scales:

    Grade Grade Points Regular Grade Points Honor/Advanced Level
    A 4 5
    B 3 4
    C 2 3
    D 1 2
    For example if a student earns an “A” first quarter and then a “C” for second quarter, the final semester grade in the course is an “B.” The B is recorded on the student transcript and is the grade used for cumulative GPA calculation. In this example, if the course is a “regular” level course, the numeric value of the B on the transcript is 3 points. If the B is earned in an honors or advanced level course, the numeric value of the B on the transcript is 4 points. Half points” or increments of .5 are not used in GPA calculation.