If it had been a real pop quiz, most of the audience would have failed. The question: Which is a high school honors course - U.S. government or calculus?
Most seemed surprised to learn that U.S. government is an honors course and calculus, an advanced level of math, is not.
But surprise was the expected response.
"There's no rhyme or reason to what counts as an honors course," Steve Johnson, director of curriculum and instruction for Carroll County schools, told parents and students during a meeting Wednesday at Shiloh Middle School in Hampstead about proposed changes to the weighted system for grade-point averages.
Concerned that some students are avoiding subjects that may interest them in favor of honors courses that can lift a GPA, school officials are recommending changes that they say would standardize the courses that qualify for a weighted grade.
"We want to set the standard for weighted grades to our most rigorous, college-level courses," Johnson said.
Under the proposed system, only Advanced Placement and transcripted-credit courses would qualify for a weighted grade because those classes require students to pass a test at the end of the year to earn college credit.
Honors courses would no longer earn students extra quality points toward their GPAs.
Students taking AP classes may earn college credit, depending on the test score required by the college. Students taking a transcripted-credit course may apply that credit at any college in the United States.
On the non-weighted GPA scale, all grades are figured on a 4.0 scale, with an A representing 4 quality points. A weighted GPA is calculated on a 5.0 scale, with that same A counting for 5 quality points. All students are given a non-weighted GPA, where all grades are calculated using the 4.0 scale, but those students in AP or transcripted-credit courses can have those grades recalculated with a weighted GPA.
"A weighted grade-point average allows students to take our most challenging courses without fear of lowering their GPA," Johnson said.
However, some parents and students expressed concerns that the proposed changes - which would go into effect at the start of the 2005-2006 school year - would eliminate the incentive to take honors classes because those courses would no longer be calculated on a weighted scale.
"I think it's going to lower the standards," said Brendan Schlauch, a junior at South Carroll High School in Sykesville. "In the end, kids who are not going to be rewarded for the extra effort in honors" will skip those classes and take the lower-level classes to maintain a higher GPA.
Schlauch expressed concern that the proposal is the county's way of trying to boost its AP enrollment at the risk of crowding too many students into those classes.
"It's better to have smaller AP classes where every student takes the test and passes it than it is to have larger numbers of students taking the classes, where fewer take the test and even fewer pass it," said Schlauch, an officer in the Carroll County Student Government Association.
Although parent Kathy Crumbaugh said she had many concerns at first, she left the meeting with a better understanding of the proposed changes. But she still wonders whether the new system will work.
"It sounds great if students actually do step up to the plate," said Crumbaugh, the mother of two North Carroll High graduates, an eighth-grader at Shiloh Middle and a third-grader at Sandymount Elementary. "This might be an incentive, but my concern is that people will fall back into the easier classes."
Johnson said the school system is trying to challenge students by providing the weighted grade system for the tougher classes.
But the change, he said, would also encourage students to take classes that interest them, such as those in fine arts that aren't considered honors, instead of feeling pressured to take more honors-level courses.
The school board had been expected to vote on the proposal at its meeting next month. But because of concerns raised at Wednesday's meeting, Johnson said he will ask the board to delay its vote until October so he can hold additional meetings to explain the proposal to more student groups and parents.
The public is encouraged to attend the next meeting, at Century High School in Sykesville at 7 p.m. Tuesday.