Thousands of Baltimore high school students will see a boost in grade point averages this fall as the district rolls out a policy change that gives students more credit for taking rigorous courses.

The change comes in response to a 2014 revelation — brought to light by students from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute — that city students were earning fewer points toward weighted grade-point averages for honors and Advanced Placement classes than their peers in other school districts across Maryland. That put them at a competitive disadvantage for college acceptance and scholarships.


School board members said last year that they were stunned to learn of the disparity and vowed reform. The new system will now weight honors and AP classes at one of the highest rates in the state. It will be applied to students entering high school this year and retroactively to current students.

"Our students face many challenges," said Rudy Ruiz, the district's executive director of college and career readiness. "And this wasn't an area where they needed to be disadvantaged."

The city uses a four-point scale for letter grades A through D and a multiplier system to attach "quality points" to GPAs for students who take honors and AP courses.

For instance, a student who earned a C in a city honors course received 2.2 points. In Baltimore County, that same student would have earned a 3.0.

The city's new system will award one point for honors courses, and 1.5 for Advanced Placement and international baccalaureate classes.

The additional points can make a big difference. Weighted GPAs are used by many colleges to award academic scholarships and by the NCAA for merit and athletic scholarships.

Sam Brand, the Polytechnic Institute math teacher and basketball coach whose class brought the grading inconsistencies to the board's attention last spring, said he knows students whose educational careers will drastically improve as a result of the change.

"It's a big relief," Brand said. "I'm going to be able to go through transcripts and encourage students to challenge themselves, and it's going to mean more when I tell them that taking these classes is worth it because they're going to get credit they deserve."

John Crosby, a basketball player who graduated from Poly last year, was among student athletes whose transcripts Brand scrutinized to make sure he qualified for the NCAA.

Crosby did end up qualifying after passing his five honors courses — more than one dozen scholarships hinged on him doing so — and after spending the past year at a preparatory school, he plans to play basketball at University of Dayton in the fall.

"I'm glad the kids in the future will be treated equally," Crosby said. "But things happen for a reason. It kind of made me better off because I really had to push myself my senior year."

City school officials said they hope the change will encourage students to take more rigorous classes, especially Advanced Placement courses that have low enrollment.

Christian Pearson, who is entering his freshman year at Poly and has at least one AP class on his schedule, said the change is welcome news.

"Baltimore City Public Schools wasn't looking at their own policy, and that's not fair," Pearson said. "I'm glad they finally did what was just. I would encourage them to check all of their policies — triple check them — so that nothing like this happens again."


School board members said they'd like to see a similar credit system for students in middle school.

Weighted GPAs have been debated for decades — in 1993 a Baltimore County parent filed a lawsuit against the district when his daughter's weighted GPA did not earn her the co-valedictorian title.

The way districts use and report weighted GPAs varies, and officials in districts such as Baltimore County where quality points are considered high have acknowledged the need to set a standard across the state to create an equal playing field.

Brand's students figured out the weighted GPA discrepancies by reviewing city and county student transcripts and district grading policies, calling admissions counselors and gathering documents as part of a project in an advanced math class.

They also found they were at a disadvantage when it came to the percentage that tests and classwork accounted for in their overall course grades.

In comparing algebra honors classes at Poly and Baltimore County's Randallstown High School, they found classwork accounted for 50 percent of students' grades at Randallstown and 15 percent at Poly, while tests and projects accounted for 30 percent of the grade at Randallstown and 70 percent at Poly.

De'Aira Johnson was one of the students who participated in the class project. At the time, she was a high school senior who hoped to attend Delaware State University. But she feared she'd have to attend community college instead.

She believed her choices would have been different if she'd attended school with her friends across the county line. Now entering her sophomore year at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Johnson said she was excited that students may be spared the same anxiety.

"I'm happy that other students get a chance to reach their educational goals, being able to go to the schools that they want to, and having the same opportunities as county students," she said.

"And I'm even more happy that I was a part of something that is going to impact the whole Baltimore City school system," she said.

In their presentation to the school board, Brand and his students offered several examples of how city students missed out on opportunities under the old system.

Among them was Greg Butler, a standout basketball star who Brand said couldn't secure an NCAA scholarship because he loaded up on more difficult honors classes but didn't get the GPA boost he would have gotten in other school districts.

In an interview last year, Butler said he was working to pay off classes at community college. He said he wasn't resentful, but felt graduating from the city system put him at a disadvantage.

"I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "Same grades, different district, different story."

In April, Butler was arrested and charged in the rioting and looting that gripped the city amid the protests following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury while in police custody.

Police allege that Butler is the gas-masked man captured on national television cutting a hose that firefighters attempted to use to extinguish a burning CVS pharmacy.

His attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, maintains Butler's innocence.

A jury trial in the case is scheduled for Aug. 28.