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  • Theo Weller

DCPS Reconsiders Pandemic-Era Grading Policies

During the COVID-19 pandemic, DCPS’ grading policies became far more permissive. The minimum score a student could receive on any assignment was raised from a zero to a 63%. Teachers were prohibited from penalizing students for turning in work late and, at one point, any completed assignment counted as extra-credit. But even after the pandemic has faded into a distant memory, grading policies have remained lenient in many ways.


The lowest grade one can receive on an assignment is still a 50%, and that can only be given if a student never attempted any part of an assignment (i.e. submitted a blank page), or never turned it in. According to the DCPS grading policy, if a student has submitted any amount of work for an assignment, “however minimal it may be,” the lowest possible score they can be given is a 63%. And although the highest score a late assignment can receive is an 86%, teachers must accept late work submitted at any time before the end of the term.


But it appears that DCPS may be reevaluating these rather lenient grading policies. In a survey sent out by DCPS in January, the school district asked for community input on several aspects of the grading policy. The survey included three sections: “assignment deadlines,” “academic integrity,” and “failure due to attendance.” Each section gave respondents options for new policies.


For the “assignment deadlines” section, the possible new policies included adding new deadlines to submit late work, either two weeks before the end of the term or midway through the term.


Under “academic integrity”, the survey gave options or the response to any form of integrity related incident. While both options included failing the student on the assignment on which the student breached their academic integrity, one gave students the opportunity to resubmit the work while the other one gave no such opportunity. Under “failure due to attendance”, the survey proposed changes in the number of unexcused absences in a course for the student to be given an F in that class.


Why is DCPS considering making their grading policies harsher? One possible motivation is grade inflation. In a Rookery article from April of last year, counselor of the 2024 class, Kathryn Moore, reported that the now-senior class had an average GPA of 3.93. Even with Walls being a selective, top academic school, such numbers are staggering. With colleges taking into account the relative value of grades at different high schools, there is legitimate concern that continuing along with lenient, grade-inflating policies will hurt college admissions for DCPS students — including those from Walls.


Grade inflation isn’t unique to DCPS, either. Though grade inflation had long been happening in the US, the pandemic arguably accelerated the phenomenon across the country. This was likely caused by similar circumstances to those causing DCPS’ inflation: liberal grading policies to account for the challenges students faced learning online.


Despite the downsides of grade inflation, many students would prefer to keep the current grading policies. “I don’t want [new deadlines for late work],” said Ereftu Patel (‘25), “I like when teachers don’t care how late you do your homework because all that matters is if you understand the material.” Patel also felt that with lots of other schools having lenient policies, a harsh policy change would make it more difficult for Walls students to compete for college admissions.


“However, teachers don’t necessarily not care when students turn in work late, even if DCPS policy requires them to accept it,” science teacher Adam Vrooman said, “what becomes challenging for me as an instructor to manage sometimes is the volume of work that comes in at the end of the advisory.” Though it may be a reprieve for students, their reliance on the lenient policies can create burdens for teachers.


Mr. Vrooman added that this can end up hurting students as well. “Some students experience a lot of stress and angst around completing many assignments at the very end or having assignments build up and not having that sense of time management ... become of the ability to turn in work at a very late time,” Mr. Vrooman said.


Ganesh Bhojwani (‘24) echoed Patel, prioritizing learning over timeliness: ““The current grading policy is a fair policy that focuses primarily on the actual learning of students rather than arbitrary deadlines.”


“Allowing students to submit work late and at their own pace allows for greater equality of work in comparison to the rushed half-effort assignments submitted prior to the current policy.” Bhojwani added, “Harsher deadlines force students to drop their extracurriculars and limits their growth both as people and students. DCPS enacting stricter guidelines sends a message that they don’t see the value in learning outside of traditional curriculum.


Mr. Vrooman agreed that there are some advantages to the current grading policy. “There’s some good aspects regarding the opportunities for revision because we know that as a learner growing and developing revision and feedback ... is important” he said.


However, he pointed out that doing work late doesn’t necessarily help students learn while in class, saying “I see students struggling on the check for understandings and benchmark assessments as they have not done the practice and then... [have] to do practice for work they’ve already been assessed on.” This is an inconvenient outcome that many students who have turned work in late have come across. Seojin Kim (‘25), too, didn’t see the current policy as an issue, but did take issue with the fact that the current policy “isn’t always enforced super consistently ... some teachers have their own deadlines on when retakes can be done and when late work is submitted.”


There are some students who are more open to a change, though. Pablo Salazar (‘25) acknowledged that the current policy inflates grades and supported a less lenient policy. On the topic of the introduction of new late work deadlines, Salazar said, “I think that it is a fair decision although it will take some getting used to by everyone.”


Grade inflation isn’t the only worrying number DCPS is dealing with, though. The 4-year graduation rate of DCPS students remains relatively low at 75.3%, according to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s 2023 School Report Card. While Walls tends to be focused on As vs Bs and getting students into the best colleges, many other DCPS schools are primarily focused on simply getting students to graduate. While attempting to counter grade inflation, DCPS will have to be careful to not worsen the already low graduation rates.


At this point, the details of DCPS’ possible grading policy amendments are unclear. But with the issues plaguing DCPS and Walls, it seems change will be coming soon.

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