Top students say grades put at risk in toughest classes 'Weighted' results suggested to protect scholarship chances

December 29, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Not all grades are created equal, some students say. And the Carroll County school board is considering whether to acknowledge the disparity by creating a rating system that would give more weight to marks earned in the toughest high school courses.

"The kids say there's 4.0, and there's 4.0," said Ann M. Ballard, a Carroll County school board member. "If you go through high school and you're taking weightlifting and baby-sitting and you're getting all A's, other kids are taking advanced calculus and getting B's and C's. I absolutely believe in weighted grades."

Carroll County high schools do not have weighted grades. But at the urging of student government leaders last year, a committee is trying to decide whether to change that and, if so, what system would work best.

Meanwhile, an A earned in science research counts for no more than an A earned in a much easier general science course.

Around the country, many high schools have systems that boost the grade point average or class rank of students who take tougher classes. Baltimore County, for example, has some magnet high school programs in which students earn more points in advanced courses than in regular courses.

Such weighting has caused concern, however, among some parents whose children are not in the science and math magnet program at Parkville High School. Some children who took tough classes in subjects other than science and math say they dropped in class rank because the magnet students get an advantage.

Students who take the high road benefit in what they learn, but a lower grade in more challenging courses may sometimes put them at a disadvantage when applying to colleges and for scholarships, Ballard said.

"A lot of scholarships require that you be in the top 10 percent of your class," Ballard said.

Her son Zakk has been applying to colleges, and they ask his class rank.

"In parentheses, it says 'weighted,' " Ballard said. But he has no weighted class rank. He used to get all A's, but he took advanced-placement calculus this year and got a B, Ballard said.

"Biology II is one of the toughest classes at the school, and a lot of kids don't want to take it because it would affect their" grade point average, said Ballard, who runs the South Carroll High School store and talks with students daily. "I think weighted grades will keep students in more challenging courses."

Elise Ballard, no relation to Ann Ballard, is a senior at South Carroll High who has taken the hardest classes all four years.

"I'm in the top 11 percent of my class," said Elise. "I don't qualify for a lot of scholarships" that require students to be in the top 5 percent or 10 percent.

But even if she had known this four years ago, Elise said, "I can't say I would have taken easier classes. There are other scholarships out there."

Marie Legg, a senior at Francis Scott Key High School and student representative to the Carroll County school board, said the Student Government Association would like to have GPAs adjusted in calculating class rank so that students who take harder classes would rank higher. Class rank, she said, can determine everything from the class valedictorian to scholarship eligibility.

The committee in Carroll surveyed parents, administrators, students and teachers, and most favored some kind of weighting system, but no recommendations have been made.

Of those surveyed, 33 percent of the principals and administrators wanted no change, but 67 percent wanted a dual system with a straight GPA calculation and ranking as now, with the option for each student to ask for a weighted class rank and GPA for college and scholarship applications.

Teachers' responses were more varied. Of those surveyed, 36 percent preferred weighted grades for GPA and for class rank; 26 percent wanted no change; 24 percent wanted the dual system the administrators preferred; 9 percent wanted weighted grades for class rank only; and 5 percent wanted it for GPA only.

Assistant Superintendent Gary Dunkleberger said no change is expected for this school year. The committee has no deadline, although plans are to have a recommendation as early as next month, according to its last report to the school board.

"We've asked them to take their time to research it and ask all the questions, instead of meeting some arbitrary deadline," Dunkleberger said.

Students applying to college can make their cases based on their transcripts, which show the classes they took, he said.

"Many colleges take a kid's transcript and weight the grades the way they want," he said.

But class rank is a factor in college and scholarship decisions, and that's why students want at least the official ranking to be adjusted for students who take harder courses.

A survey last year by the National Association for College Admissions Counselors indicated that class rank is the fourth most-used criterion for admission, after all grades, grades in college preparatory courses and admissions tests.

A recent article in the Journal of College Admission touted class rank as a more reliable indicator of college acceptance and success than grade point average.

Ballard praised David Booz, principal at South Carroll, for doing his part to recognize students who fall off the 4.0 list because of a B or C in an advanced academic course. He writes letters of congratulation to all straight-A students each quarter, but also has begun writing letters to students who did not make straight A's but were taking harder courses.

Pub Date: 12/29/97

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