High school controversies spur plan to reform policy

Officials want to clarify who may change grades

October 28, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Howard County school officials have recommended changes to the high school grading policy and procedures that would clarify who may change grades and the criteria for posting a course withdrawal on transcripts.

After controversies last school year at Oakland Mills and Centennial high schools involving allegations of grade-tampering, a committee convened last spring to examine the high school grading policy and other issues was asked by the board to rectify weaknesses highlighted by those two cases.

The panel made its recommendations to the school board this month, and school board members discussed some of the recommended changes at a work session yesterday.

Much of the discussion and questions centered on two issues: how and when a student may withdraw from a class, and incoming ninth-graders' academic eligibility requirements for extracurricular activities.

Under the revised grading policy, a student would receive a "W" after withdrawing from a course more than a week after the middle of the first-quarter marking period, or after about seven weeks - even when a student is transferring to a different level of the same course.

School board member Sandra French said that change would penalize students who chose to take a higher-level course, then found it was too challenging and transferred to a lower-level course. French suggested that the school system forgo posting a withdrawal in ninth and 10th grades.

The purpose of having a withdrawal code is to accurately reflect a student's academic history, said committee co-chairman Daniel Michaels, a school system administrative director.

Board members also expressed concern about how colleges might weigh a "W" in student transcripts.

"The real issue the parents raise is how a `W' is perceived in college admissions," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman. "And what is the proper reflection of a child's academic history?"

The committee was asked by the board to research how colleges view a "W," and it came back with varying results. One large university said it does not accept students who have withdrawals on their transcripts, while others said they view them in context.

The proposed revisions also clearly spell out procedures and guidelines for grade changes, which are absent from the current policy.

Only the principal and the teacher who assigned the grade would have the authority to change a student's grade on the report card. The revised policy also calls for the principal to confer with the teacher before a grade is changed.

Grade changes also must be documented in writing, according to the proposed revisions.

For the policy governing academic eligibility for participation in extracurricular activities, the committee recommended that requirements for incoming ninth-graders fall in line with those for upper-level students.

Incoming freshmen would have to earn no lower than a "C" average in the final marking period of eighth grade without a failing grade in any class to qualify for fall extracurricular activities.

Under the current policy, incoming ninth-graders must have a final cumulative average of "C" or better in core courses and no failing grades in the final marking period of eighth grade.

The Howard school system instituted ninth-grade eligibility requirements in 2000, becoming one of the few districts in Maryland to have such standards.

"The board is interested in knowing how the change impacted students and teachers," Watson said.

Middle school principals told the committee that eligibility standards act as a motivating factor for the eighth-graders, Michaels said.

The policy allows for ineligible students to attend summer school. But summer course offerings at the middle school level are very limited and may require the school system to provide more options, school officials said.

A public hearing on the policy revisions is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the board offices.

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