Clearing academic hurdles Howard County: 'Pass or play' ruling will determine whether to raise bar a notch.

August 02, 1996

MANY FACTORS contribute to Howard County public schools' distinction of having one of Maryland's best public education systems.

Not least of these is the socio-economic advantages that help students get better preparation for class than many of their peers elsewhere. They are fortunate to live in one of the nation's wealthiest counties, where most of their parents can provide the resources to help them learn.

But there is something else. Students entering the county's school system know -- or quickly come to learn -- about its relatively high standards. They realize from the outset that the days without homework will be few, that school projects will be constant companions. These academic standards no doubt play significant role in helping generate the state's highest standardized test scores year in and year out.

But schools officials are hearing some concerns -- legitimate ones -- as they try to raise the bar a notch higher. Administrators want to require students to maintain a 2.0 average and pass every subject to remain eligible for extracurricular functions, imposing the area's toughest standards.

Critics, who include the county's PTA leaders and some high school coaches, warn that the proposal could discourage students from taking the most challenging classes because they would be afraid of failure. Another concern is that the proposal is too rigid. Ineligibility for any failing grade during a marking period is raising the bar a notch too high, opponents say.

Moreover, some of them complain, student-athletes failing to meet the inflexible standards would be unfairly punished if they are unable to rejoin their teams after improving their grades in mid-season. All of these are valid points. The school board finds itself in the middle of a sticky debate with strong arguments on both sides.

However, students faced with high academic hurdles will know from the outset what it takes to clear them. They will have more incentive at the start of the school year to work harder to earn the privilege of playing basketball or editing the yearbook. If Howard's past successes are any guide, students will rise to the occasion when this reasonable challenge is put before them.

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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