Wait over for schools' weighted grading plan

Officials dismiss idea that delay hurt college application process

January 13, 1999|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

After a three-month delay, county high schools are using a new rating system that takes into account the difficulty level of academic courses in grade point averages and class rankings.

Under the system -- adopted by the county Board of Education last spring -- more advanced courses carry a greater numerical weight. The board's intention was to recognize students who took the most challenging classes.

School officials planned to have the system in place by Oct. 1, in time for high school seniors to take advantage of it for college applications. But the delay -- caused by computer programming problems -- meant that guidance counselors didn't have access to the information through the computer until late last month.

Students were unable to use "weighted" rankings for grade point averages and class rankings in their college applications, most of which were due by Dec. 1 or Jan. 1. School officials said counselors calculated weighted rankings by hand for students who requested it.

Most high school principals and school officials say the unavailability of the weighted calculations had no effect on most students and did not jeopardize chances for admission.

"In my heart of hearts, I don't think students were hurt by it in the long run," said Cynthia Little, supervisor of guidance for county schools. "But I'm disappointed because we promised a product on Oct. 1 that we didn't deliver until the end of December."

Although school officials are downplaying the delay of weighted rankings and grade point averages, an administrator at one high school expressed concerns about it.

"Sure it caused problems. It did not allow students to present their [college] candidacies in the best way they possibly could," said the administrator, who requested anonymity.

He said students who applied to colleges under an early admission plan might have been affected most by the lack of weighted rankings because all application information had to be submitted by November. For a borderline applicant, the administrator said, a weighted grade point average or class rank might have made a difference in whether a student met a college's admission criteria.

Guidance counselors at county high schools said the absence of weighted rankings could not have made a difference in a college's acceptance or rejection of an applicant.

"Most colleges look at the total package of a student," said Mary Carter, chairwoman of the guidance department at Francis Scott Key High School. "They review the academic curriculum, extracurricular activities and standardized test scores.

"Even though the grade point average and class rank are extremely important, they're not the only things that are considered in a potential applicant," Carter said.

Guidance counselors said advanced and honors courses are clearly marked on students' transcripts. Also, counselors said many colleges choose to recalculate grade point averages and class rankings using their formulas.

"Colleges will do what they want to anyway," said Janice Hobart, guidance department chairwoman at Westminster High School. "They're primarily interested in the level of classes and the profile of the school."

Marti O'Connell, director of admissions at Western Maryland College in Westminster, confirmed the guidance counselors' statements.

"We know if someone is taking an advanced placement course and gets a B, vs. someone who takes a lower-level course and gets an A," she said.

"As admissions professionals, we have the ability to read transcripts and understand which students are taking the more difficult courses and what those grades mean," O'Connell said.

The county school board adopted the weighted rating system in May at the urging of students who wanted recognition for taking advanced courses. Students had complained that those who took the toughest classes sometimes have lower grade point averages and class rankings than students who take easier courses.

Under the new policy, an A in a weighted or more difficult course would be worth five points. A student in a nonweighted class would receive four points for an A.

The system gives students the option of having grade point averages and class rankings calculated using a weighted or nonweighted formula. This way, school officials said, students of lesser abilities would not be penalized for taking courses appropriate to their abilities.

The delay in making the option available occurred because it was necessary to make changes to the data processing system, officials said. The employee who was going to write the software took a leave of absence that became longer than anticipated, said Thomas W. Hayes, information technology manager for county schools.

He said the school system was forced to hire an outside consultant -- at a cost of $26,000 -- to complete the software project.

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