Grade disadvantage

Harford County Public Schools officials are seeking the public's input on proposed changes to a school system policy on how much extra weight grades for advanced classes should carry in a student's overall grade point average. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Patuxent Homestead / August 26, 2012)

Harford County Public Schools officials are seeking the public's input before the Board of Education votes on proposed changes to a school system policy on how much extra weight grades for advanced classes should carry in a student's overall grade point average.

Board members were told in late May the changes would make Harford students more competitive with students from surrounding jurisdictions when applying for college admissions and scholarships.

"When our kids go out to compete for college admissions, the weighting of their grades is not reflecting as much of a weight as kids from surrounding jurisdictions," Joseph Schmitz, executive director of middle and high school performance, explained during the May 27 board meeting.

An A in a weighted course, such as an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate course, would still count for five points in a student's GPA, compared to four points for a standard class.


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But the weighted score for a B would increase from 3.75 to 4.0 and for a C from 2.5 to 3.0, while the score for a D would decrease from 1.25 to 1.0, which is the same for a D in a regular class, according to a copy of the proposed changes posted for public comment on the school system's website http://www.hcps.org.

The policy changes are scheduled to go before the board for a vote July 21, Jillian Lader, manager of communications for HCPS, said via e-mail Wednesday.

Baltimore County Public Schools students who are in honors classes receive five "quality points" for an A, and students in gifted and talented, International Baccalaureate and advanced placement courses receive six points for each A, Mark Bedell, assistant superintendent for high schools, explained Monday.

"Traditional courses are on a four-point scale," Bedell said.

He said Tuesday the weighted scale drops one point for each lower grade level, such as five points for a B in an AP course, four points for a C and so on.

In Cecil County, weighted grades are broken down on a plus-minus scale; a grade of A in an honors course earns a student five quality points, and an A in an Advanced Placement course earns the student five-and-a-half points, according to documents provided by Kelly Keeton of Cecil County Public Schools.

The honors student would earn 4.62 points for an A minus, and the AP student would earn 5.12 points; the score continues to drop by several tenths of a point down the letter-grade scale, Keeton explained.

Lader noted that AP and International Baccalaureate classes are weighted on the same scale in Harford.

Schmitz said during the May board meeting that he and other members of the school system's central office staff had been having discussions with "a number of school-based people" regarding "whether or not we might be placing our students at a relative disadvantage" with the current weighted grades.

He noted the school system has in recent years developed "a number of very rigorous, specialized curricula." Among them are the Science and Mathematics Academy and Natural Resources and Agricultural Science magnet programs at Aberdeen High School and North Harford High School, respectively, the International Baccalaureate Program at Edgewood High School and biomedical, engineering and technology courses through the nonprofit Project Lead the Way.

Schmitz said the policy change would also give the superintendent the authority to form a committee to examine advanced courses and determine whether they would be eligible for weighted grades.

In the proposed policy change, weighted courses are defined as "Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and other courses to be of such rigor and content as to warrant weighted grades as deemed by the Superintendent or his/her designee."

The current policy allows for weighted grades for advanced placement courses.

Schmitz, along with Kevin Ensor, supervisor of school counseling services, also discussed how, with college admissions officers having to deal with such a large volume of applications, it is more difficult for Harford County students, with their lower-weighted grades, to stand out as admissions departments turn to computer programs in the evaluation process.

"If kids are not reaching a certain weighted GPA, they're not getting a second look," Ensor said.

Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick noted "there was no such thing as a weighted grade" when he was in school.

He compared the current college admissions process to employers using software to evaluate job applicants.

"Nobody reads your resume," he said. "They scan it into a piece of software, and the software decides if you go to the top of the stack or not."

Board member Robert Frisch noted the policy changes as presented only cover high school students and asked if middle school students who complete high school-level courses could have those credits weighted in their GPAs.

"That's my only concern, is that we don't slam the door on a kid that has real talent," he said.

Superintendent Barbara Canavan said "it's unusual that that occurs, but we have had [middle school] students that have been involved in higher-level classes, especially in math and English."

"We can take that back and take a look at that," she said of Frisch's suggestion.

The policy changes that have since been posted on the school system's website include a provision for middle school students.

"Students in grade 6-8 may receive credit in the content area and a weighted grade on their high school transcript for any courses they take for which they would received a weighted grade in grades 9-12," according to the current proposal.