Parkville school has ranking problems 2-tier system harms teens not in magnet program, parents say

September 20, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Angeli Shah's near-perfect grade point average puts her among the top half-dozen seniors at Parkville High School. But in the class rankings, she placed 28th, just squeaking into the top 10 percent.

Not a bad showing in a class of 306, but not at the pinnacle, either.

And not fair, according to her father and about 20 other parents. They say their children have been sabotaged by educators who made Parkville a regional magnet school and gave students in that program advantages over neighborhood children.

That edge -- weighted grades and the chance to take more high-level courses -- paves the way for top rankings, those parents say, while jeopardizing other students' chances for rankings that could lead to college scholarships.

In Parkville's Class of 1998, in fact, Angeli is the only nonmagnet student in the top 10 percent. And in the Class of 1999, Michelle Marshall worries that students in the magnet program will block her goal of being valedictorian.

"The issue is fairness and equity," said Romi Shah, Angeli's father. "The county policy is wrong. It was not us who put the [magnet] program in place. They should not be stepping on our kids."

But other parents say students in the magnet program earned those rankings -- going to school 30 minutes longer each day for three years, meeting stiffer credit requirements and working well beyond expectations.

Now, Baltimore County schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione has stepped in with a compromise: a dual ranking system. Complaining parents aren't sure it will be enough, though.

The Parkville High Center for Mathematics, Science and Computer Science opened in 1994 within the 1,600-student school. Its first class had about 85 students from many schools, including Parkville, on the county's east side; Woodlawn High has a similar program for westside students.

Parkville's class rankings are complicated by quirks:

Rank is based on weighted grades. That means grades earned in honors or gifted-and-talented classes are worth more "quality points" than grades earned in regular classes. For instance, an A in gifted-and-talented algebra is worth six quality points; an A in standard algebra is worth four quality points.

Also, during the first three years of the magnet program, its students had an eight-period daily schedule, requiring them to take one more course than other students. Many took gifted-and-talented courses, earning extra quality points.

"They have taken more classes; they were offered more 'g-t' classes than I'm allowed to have," said Angeli, who has better than a 3.9 grade point average and has taken gifted-and-talented courses, but not exclusively. The top five seniors in her class have 4.0 grade point averages.

After weeks of wrangling at Parkville, Marchione has, according to people close to the issue, written to parents with his solution: Parkville will issue an "official" class ranking that covers all students, based on the weighted grades. But the school will also rank students by unweighted grade-point averages, in which all A's are worth four points.

Students can report either ranking on applications to college and for scholarships.

In addition, when Parkville is asked to name the top 5 percent or 10 percent of its seniors for honors, it will count students who fall within those percentages on both lists.

Some parents had suggested that Parkville compile two official rankings based on quality points: one for all students and one excluding students in the magnet program.

R. J. Marshall, whose daughter is in 11th grade, says that would have given "the most recognition to the most students."

He estimates that perhaps 50 students, over both lists, would be in the top 10 percent of the class, rather than 30 in the list now used.

Michelle, he adds, should not be forced to take advanced science and math courses. "My daughter wants to be a lawyer. Why should she be penalized for not choosing to go into the magnet program?"

But Gail Rauenzahn, the mother of a magnet student, says it would be difficult to compile the lists because some students have moved in and out of the magnet program; some students take a few magnet courses; and the difference in placement would be too radical.

Since September, all Parkville students have been on the same schedule, which requires eight credits a year. This change should eliminate the class rank controversy after the Class of 2000.

Still, Angeli worries about the impact as she applies to college.

"I don't think it will affect my college acceptances," said Angeli, who is considering Loyola College, the University of Maryland and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "But for scholarships, it will definitely affect me."

Baltimore County school officials downplay the impact of class rank, saying that colleges look at many criteria when choosing students and awarding financial aid.

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