OPINION: Inspiring a Culture of Mediocrity

Loudoun County Public Schools have a reputation for high academic performance, first-rate facilities, and diverse curriculum. Over the past several years, however, Loudoun County has begun to implement a series of policies to artificially increase student performance and afford Loudoun County students an edge in the increasingly competitive world of college admissions.

This trend first started with the grading scale change that was implemented during the 2009-10 school year. Originally, Loudoun County used a seven point scale that awarded any grade from 93-100 with an A grade, with grades descending at seven point intervals to a 70; any grade after 70 was considered failing. However, starting after seventh grade for current seniors, Loudoun schools switched to a more generous ten point scale, under the pretense of making Loudoun students more competitive in GPA-based scholarships and honors programs.

With this change, significant jumps can be seen in the percentage of students in graduating classes with A grades. Loudoun Valley had 15% of students with an A grade before the change; this year they had 45% with an A. Briar Woods jumped from 27% to 50%; Freedom jumped from 10% to 28%.

Further evidence of this inflationary trend can be found in the “bump” system within Loudoun County schools. The county school system rewards students taking honors classes with a .5 GPA bump in that particular class, and students taking AP classes with a 1.0 bump. Intentioned to reward students taking these classes, this also had the effect of significantly increasing many student GPAs. With these bumps, many students’ GPAs began to rise above the 4.0 mark; previously, a 4.0 GPA was a heralded mark in the minds of most students, but it has been diffused to the point that upwards of 80 people can reach above this mark in the larger Loudoun high schools.

This trend was highlighted by the increasing use of test corrections among Loudoun middle and high schools, as well as other inflationary grade policies within the county. In the past, test corrections had been offered by teachers as a purely remedial tool to help struggling students learn important material. This practice has quickly transitioned to awarding students points back for test corrections, or awarding them a chance to retake a test after review, both practices that were relatively obscure just a few years ago. Additionally, at Tuscarora, it has become administrative policy that students with D or F grades on tests must be offered test corrections, a signal that these practices are becoming entrenched.

While these measures have helped Loudoun and Tuscarora students to become more competitive in college admissions, they have also had less desirable consequences. It is the opinion of the Tuscarora High School student newspaper editorial board that these practices are encouraging a culture where every student is considered “above average,” while true academic excellence reaps the same rewards as that of lesser performance. The ten point scale is lowering the heights to which Loudoun students need to aspire to, while test corrections are teaching kids to rely on second chances. If Loudoun County Public Schools wants to create an environment that awards truly excellent performance, then it must create a system that allows great students to shine, while allowing average students to reach the peak of their abilities.