School board may alter graduation requirements

Officials also consider new course offerings, grading system changes

Carroll County

September 09, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Changes in course offerings, graduation requirements and the grading system for high schools, beginning in the 2005-2006 school year, were proposed last night by Carroll County school officials at a meeting of the school board.

The number of credits required to graduate would stand at 25, but officials recommended adding several new courses while eliminating a few others. Those changes are intended, in part, to advance a school board goal to offer more Advanced Placement classes, according to Steve Johnson, director of curriculum and instruction.

Officials at the meeting also proposed eliminating at least one requirement, the "freshman seminar" course. If the board agrees when it votes on the proposal, freshman seminar would become an elective class.

Freshman seminar, which provides lessons on study skills, research tips and career advice, has been the subject of much debate since 2002, when it became a required course for promotion from ninth grade to 10th grade. Proponents have said it helps students make the transition to high school and gives them tools to succeed in school, while critics have said it is repetitive and boring for successful students.

"It's probably our most talked-about course," Johnson said. "There are lots of things in the course that people questioned - do all students need these things? I'm sure it's important for some kids, but not all kids."

Johnson, who said he suggested the change after "annual complaints from parents and students," stressed that the course would continue to be offered for those who feel they need it.

"If the board votes to remove it as a requirement for all kids, we will find a place [to teach] those important skills" that are imparted in freshman seminar, he said. For example, he said, English would be an appropriate course to teach research skills.

Last year, a similar effort to end the promotion requirement failed on a tie vote by the board.

School officials reiterated a proposal made at a previous board meeting to require that students take a half-credit financial literacy course to graduate. If that requirement is adopted by the board, it would not increase the number of credits needed to graduate because students would be allowed to use the course as part of their six-credit "career focus" requirement.

Another proposal still on the table - and still raising questions - involves changes to the weighted grade system. Under the proposal, only AP courses and transcripted-credit courses, both eligible for college credit, would qualify for a weighted grade; honors courses no longer would.

The board is expected to vote on all the proposals next month.

In related action last night, the board approved a $45,000 contract for an independent review of the high school program. The review, to be conducted by Mellenbrook Policy Advisors in Columbia, would be expected to evaluate what the system is doing right, and wrong, in its high schools.

"They'll give us the best outside set of eyes," said Harry T. Fogle, assistant superintendent of school management. Fogle said internal reviews have been done before, but questions about the findings would persist among teachers, students and parents.

Fogle said after the meeting that Mellenbrook is expected to provide a "midpoint report" possibly as early as November, with a January deadline for finishing it.

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