The Harford County Board of Education approved a policy revision Monday that will boost the grade point averages of students who earn a letter grade of “B” or “C” in advanced high school classes, beginning with the coming school year. The boost will come from an increase in the point value or “weight” assigned to those letter grades in high level courses such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate. School officials said the move was designed to bring Harford County Public Schools’ marking system into line with other Maryland jurisdictions, and to increase students’ competitive position for college admissions and scholarships. The change will take effect in the 2014-15 school year.
Specifically, the new policy maintains the point value of 5.0 for an “A” in an advanced, or “weighted”, course (versus 4.0 for an “A” in a standard course). However, the point value for a “B” in a weighted course would increase from 3.75 to 4.0; and the value would rise for a “C” from 2.5 to 3.0. The value for a “D” in a weighted course would drop from 1.25 to a 1.0 under the proposal. Middle school students would also receive the revised grade point values in the rare cases where middle school students take classes that qualify for weighted grades on their high school transcripts.
In addition, the revised policy would authorize Superintendent Barbara Canavan or her designee to make additional courses eligible for weighted grades, such as courses in the Project Lead the Way Pre-engineering and Biomedical sequence, the Aberdeen Science and Math Academy, and North Harford’s Natural Sciences and Agricultural Science Magnet Program.
Approval of the new policy came at a school board business meeting where Board members also discussed the possibility of making the increased point values retroactive. HCPS parent Mark Brown spoke during the meeting’s public comment period and suggested the move, along with giving some extra weight to grades in honors classes, albeit less than that granted for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses.
Superintendent Barbara Canavan said that school officials were in the process of evaluating honors classes to ensure rigor and consistency. She expressed support for giving some added weight to grades in honors classes, but the necessary work would not be done in time for the upcoming school year, she said.
Regarding retroactivity, Canavan cautioned against setting a precedent of retroactivity for board policy decisions. She also cited the difficulty of altering affected transcripts that had already been issued. Fresh off her swearing-in as the board’s new student representative, Patterson Mill High School senior Hannah Jones suggested that retroactivity apply at least for current students.
Canavan responded, “I cannot emphasize enough that the suggestion is an admirable one, but it is onerous”.
Other Board members weighed in. Board member Cassandra Beverley said that retroactivity was a great idea, but “I am sympathetic to the fact that it’s kind of easier said than done in terms of the implementation.” Board member Jim Thornton questioned the difficulty of implementation and the fairness for students who have already taken some advanced classes under the old point system. “We’re trying to be fair going forward, but yet we have a population of students who could benefit from this currently,” he said.
Following further discussion, Canavan said she favored time for staff to study the full ramifications of retroactivity. “Nobody on this Board, and certainly not the superintendent and the leadership team, runs away from hard work. The point is we’ve got to think this thing through and do this in a very thoughtful way,” she said.
In the end, the board approved the policy as presented and also voted to collect public comment for at least 30 days on the issue of retroactivity, with the potential for board action sometime thereafter.