Is summer half over, or is half of it left? [Editorial]

The fading week marks a calendar turning point: it's roughly halfway between the end of the last school year and the beginning of a new one for students in Harford County Public Schools.

It's time, arguably, to start thinking about some of the academic issues that will need to be addressed in the coming weeks and months. An important one is the question: How much added weight should be given to grades achieved by students who do well in academically advanced courses?

The idea behind weighted grades is to recognize the reality that a B in an advanced placement high school physics class is harder to attain than a B in a standard level physical science class. When calculating grade point averages, expressed in numbers with 4 being equal to an A and 1 equal to a D, Harford County Public Schools has assigned a value of 5 to an A in an advanced placement class and 4 to an A in a standard class. Under a recently-approved school system policy change, the number assignments for A grades won't change, but Bs and Cs earned in those advanced classes, commonly known as AP classes, will have greater value. The B will be worth 4 points, up from 3.75, and a C will be worth 3 points, up from 2.5.

In addition, the school system will cease rewarding students who receive a barely passing grade of D in an AP class, weighting all Ds at 1 point; previously Ds scored in AP classes warranted a score of 1.25.

Generally speaking, the changes are reasonable, based on a desire to bring Harford County schools in line with schools in other Maryland systems so college-bound students who take AP classes locally are on equal footing in the academic selection process with their peers elsewhere in the state.

Two important issues, however, remain to be addressed by the school board, and they need to be addressed sooner than later.

The first appears to be a priority with members of the board of education, though not necessarily the school system administration. It is the need to make the grade-point average policy shift retroactive for all students enrolled in high school. While school system administrators correctly point out that there will be some work involved with making the change, failing to make the change retroactive essentially puts rising sophomores and juniors, and to a lesser degree, rising seniors, at a competitive disadvantage as they pursue acceptance into colleges.

Making the policy change was a good first step, but failing to make it retroactive for current high school students does those young people a terrible disservice. The school system is soliciting comments on the matter through, but it really shouldn't have to spend a lot of time asking what the right thing to do in this situation is, as the answer is pretty clear.

The second matter relating to weighted grades is one alluded to in the recent school board discussion on the matter, but one that could easily fall through the cracks, that being the issue of which classes qualify as advanced for purposes of adding weight to good grades.

Until the latest policy chance, only classes designated as being part of wider curricula initiatives, specifically those associated with national Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs, have qualified for extra weight. The new policy will allow the addition of other rigorous courses, as designated by the school system administration, to warrant extra weighting when calculating grade point averages.

This is a good start, but the list of classes that qualify as worthy of being weighted should be made clear and consistent both in school system literature and Internet postings, as well as in regular reports to the board of education. Inevitably, there will be questions that arise that warrant scrutiny beyond the administrative level. For example, a sophomore taking Spanish 2 clearly deserves no added grade weight, but what about a freshman taking Spanish 2? What about a freshman taking Spanish 3?

The school system is on the right track with regard to the changes it has made regarding grade weighting for advanced classes, but there's more that needs to be done.

Just something to ponder during the second half of summer vacation.

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