The Montgomery County School Board next Monday will consider a proposal that, if passed, would increase the significance of final exams in students' semester grades, thereby resurrecting a grading policy scrapped in the late '60s.
"A great deal of effort by teachers goes into developing and implementing finals, and students spend a lot of time studying for them and they should be duly weighted," said Marian L. Greenblatt, sponsor of the proposal. "That's what the policy used to be before it was abolished. Besides, it's good preparation for college."
The proposal recommends that final exams account for 25 percent of a student's second semester grade and that the final exam grade be listed separately on the report card.
Since the late '60s, final exam grades have been computed with the last marking period grade. They have accounted for 25 percent of that grade, equalling either 8 percent or 12.5 percent of the entire semester grade, depending on whether the school operates on a six-week or nine-week marking period.
While Superintendent Edward J. Andrews agrees final exams should be computed the same way across the county, he favors a 16 percent figure.
Taking issue with the 25 percent figure, John R. Pancella, secondary science coordinator for the county schools, said "Twenty-five percent places too much weight on one single event."
One Springbrook High PTA member, Joanna M. Vitale, expressed concern about the Greenblatt resolution because she said the board has not fully investigated the implications of the proposal.
School board members "need to consult teachers and students before instituting the proposal. In the '60s, they instituted progressive education without taking a look at it and now they're trying to find out why Johnny can't read. They should examine the proposal more carefully and impose it next year rather than in September 1981," she said.
Conservative board member Suzanne K. Peyser defended the countywide finals, saying, "Now that exams are prepared by the whole department, they are based more on the objectives of the curriculum. Seven or eight heads are better than one."
Blair G. Ewing, a liberal board member, said "It's an illusion to believe that departmental or standardized exams are the best way to assess a student's progress."
"I am a great believer in finals, but when I taught, I counted finals no more than 15 percent. It is more important to assess a student's ability to perform in a far less artificial atmosphere, such as on a paper or project," he said.
Student board member Jonathan C. Lipson said he had not been consulted about the grading policy even though it would directly affect him.
"It's not right for the board to set a 25 percent figure for every test, every class, every teacher and every student," Lipson said. "The board should give more flexibility to teachers. The policy is not in the best interests of the students."
Although there is considerable disagreement over the weight that should be given to finals, many educators agree there should be some county-wide uniformity, said Seneca Valley High Principal Nathan Pearson.
Pearson, president of the county's Association of Secondary School Principals, conducted a survey of the county's 43 secondary school principals. Of 32 who responded, only eight opposed a uniform percentage.
Except for the survey, there has been no opportunity for public comment on the question, Ewing said. "There has been no hearing and no systematic review. That is typical of the board," he said.
In addition to the question of weighting of final exams, the board will discuss at its Monday night meeting whether to differentiate between honors courses and regular courses in computing class ranks and grade point averages.
"There is a conflict between rewarding students who take advanced courses at the risk of getting lower grades versus charges of elitism and concerns about kids that work hard but who do not take honors courses," Pancella said.
The superintendent supports giving more credit only for advanced placement (college level) courses.
Board member Peyser argued, however, that "advanced, accelerated and honors courses should be given more weight to encourage students to take more challenging courses and to reward students for their extra time, effort and learning."
Ewing said he thought giving more weight to advanced courses could "lure bad students" into higher level courses.