Board alters requirements for high school

Future students must pass state exams to graduate

AP to count for `career focus'

Weighted-grade system modified into three tiers

Carroll County

October 14, 2004|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Next year's ninth-graders in Carroll County will face new graduation requirements as well as changes to the much-debated weighted-grade system, according to a comprehensive high school education plan approved at last night's school board meeting.

The number of credits required to graduate will stand at 25, but officials made a number of changes to how students earn their high school diplomas, including requiring them to pass the four Maryland High School Assessment exams.

The plan also modifies the six-credit "career focus" requirement by replacing it with the "academic/career focus" requirement, which is intended to provide students more flexibility by allowing them to use Advanced Placement courses to earn up to four of those credits.

FOR THE RECORD - Due to an editing error, an article yesterday about Carroll County's high school educational plan misstated which students would be affected by changes to graduation requirements.
School board members voted to allow a modified academic/career focus requirement to be applied retroactively to students who began ninth grade in the 2002-2003 school year.
The Sun regrets the error.

"This program of studies starts putting our actions where our words have been in terms of providing a rigorous academic environment for our students," said Steve Johnson, director of curriculum and instruction. "We're setting high expectations for our students."

The revamped academic/career focus requirement will allow students to take AP courses in any focus area.

"It's going to allow students to focus on completing a rigorous program of studies to get into the college of their choice while at the same time meeting that career-focus requirement," he said.

The change was prompted by concerns that some students were being forced to choose between taking an AP course and a course that would help them meet the career-focus requirement, he said.

In approving the change, board members also accepted Johnson's proposal that the modified academic/career focus requirement be applied retroactively to those students who began ninth-grade last school year because they are the first students for whom this became a graduation requirement.

Students also will have to pass all four of the HSA exams, which are given in algebra, biology, English and government. This change brings the school system in line with a state board decision this summer to require students to pass the exams as a graduation requirement.

For the past three years, students have been required only to take - not pass - the tests at the end of a course. Most students will take the classes in either ninth or 10th grade. Students who fail will be given three more times each year to retake the tests. Another option for meeting this requirement is to take all four tests, earn a minimum score on each, and earn a combined passing score as set by state education officials.

Board members also approved changes to the weighted-grade system. The new system will establish three tiers on the grading scale. The highest level, based on a 5.0 scale, will apply to Advanced Placement courses and transcripted-credit courses, both of which can earn a student college credit. Honors courses will be assessed on a 4.5 scale. All other courses will be graded on a 4.0 scale.

School officials said they were making the change to standardize the courses that qualify for a weighted grade by limiting it to the most rigorous classes.

But at public hearings during the past few months, parents and students argued that if school officials eliminated the weighted-grade system for honors courses, students would shun those courses because although the work is harder than a regular course, it would no longer be rewarded with a weighted grade.

"This is a nice compromise," Johnson said. "It still supports students and still recognizes those taking more rigorous courses."

Board student representative Andy McEvoy, a senior at Century High in Eldersburg, agreed.

He said that because the difference between the weight of a grade in an AP class and one in an honors class will be relatively small, students and parents should be satisfied.

"It should make them feel more secure about their GPAs," in terms of remaining competitive when applying to colleges, he said.

At the request of Superintendent Charles I. Ecker, board members agreed to hold off on a proposal to require students to complete a half-credit finance course.

They also agreed to delay a decision on whether to eliminate the "freshman seminar" as a requirement for promotion from ninth to 10th grade.

Ecker asked them to delay a decision on those items until an independent review of the high school program is completed in January.

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