New FCPS Grading Policy Changes

Here’s what you need to know:

Students have often criticized class grading policy, but it seems some administrators are listening.

In 2022, the local High School Principals Association, led by Principal Jeffrey Litz, oversaw the most recent changes to Fairfax County’s grade policy to focus more on content mastery than punishing student behavior, with student focus groups for feedback.

“The whole process has happened in spurts and stutters, I would say, over the past at least seven or eight years in various schools,” Litz said.

The county has made changes to its grading systems in the past. In fact, a county-wide meeting in 2015 led to the implementation of FCPS’s current 50 to 100 point grading scale.

Yet, Litz and 29 other principals from all FCPS high schools were still troubled by the inconsistency with grading policy across schools.

“[We] all had a conversation about the fact that we very much believe that a student in one school should have similar grading policies to every other high school,” Litz said. “I shouldn’t take English 9 at Marshall and be graded completely differently from someone taking English nine at Madison.”

Litz also said the 100-point scale has unfair limitations.

“If we use the 100-point scale, there are 63 ways to get an F and 10 ways to get an A,” Litz said. “In a utopian world we wouldn’t even use a 100-point scale in this building.”

Instructional Technology Coach Rachel Baxter helped organize focus groups with students in an effort for the central office to collect student feedback on grading.

“This was organized by people in central office that are working to streamline grading policies in FCPS, which is one of the goals of our new superintendent,” Baxter said. “I was just the point person that got the students and helped central office facilitate.”

Though she did not create the focus groups, she made sure they were inclusive.

“I tried to get a really good balance of students from all grades,” Baxter said. “Students taking IB and honors courses, students with IEPs and 504 plans, students who are English learners.”

Baxter also said certain policies like remediating an exam up to an 80% and grade penalties for late work muddle the point of grades.

“If grades are only meant to communicate a student’s level of mastery as it relates to that content area, then when we start throwing in things like the 80% rule that sort of muddies what a grade actually means,” she said. “And then I would argue it becomes meaningless, because we’re trying to throw all of these different things into a grade.”

A consistent thread throughout the focus groups was the variety of assignments teachers provided for students, Baxter said.

“Students like having different ways and multiple opportunities to show mastery,” she said. “Not every student is going to prefer or enjoy projects or tests or quizzes or papers. But they like having some flexibility to be able to show their teachers that they understand a concept in a way that makes sense for them, and if they don’t get it the first time they really like the opportunity to try again.”

One potential change from the 100-point scale is to a 4-point scale, based on a rubric to better grade mastery.

“In an ideal world, a 4-point grading scale would be implemented in a way where your teacher would just put in a whole number for your assignment grade,” Baxter said.

Baxter also said students discussed the divergence of having to either learn the material or get good grades.

“There was a lot of discussion in one of the groups about the disconnect that exists between wanting to learn and wanting to get good grades,” she said.

This difference is part of the reason that a 4-point scale is more appealing for schools.

“I would want to utilize a standards based rolling gradebook using a 4-point scale,” Litz said. “I think [that] communicates to kids most clearly what material they have mastered and what material they still need to work on.”

Litz also said he had held two focus groups with students to hear their opinions.

“So I think anything that we do, we have to keep in mind what the student experience is like,” Litz said. “That doesn’t mean that kids are always going to like the way we do things or how we choose to do things.”

In addition to easing pressure on students, Litz said the county wants to retain teacher autonomy in making some decisions about grades.

“Those grades mean something,” Litz said. “They should mean what that student knows and is able to do, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t measure it in an equitable manner.”

After the focus groups conclude and research is completed, the Principals Association will present their findings to the county board to demonstrate the benefits of the new grading policies.