In a move designed to make secondary school standards "more rigorous," the Montgomery County school board on Monday doubled exam values and called for a task force to find ways to persuade students to take harder courses and to make advanced academic courses count more than subjects such as physical education and driver education.
More accustomed to exams worth 8 percent to 12.5 percent of their semester grade, the county's secondary students will now face exams counting for 20 percent. By next year, when computers are reprogrammed and new report cards printed, exam results will be printed on report cards for parents to see.
The higher value "gives significant weight to the exams," said Marian L. Greenblatt, the resolution's sponsor. "It indicates that we think it (the exam) is important, it indicates that it is worth studying for, and it indicates that when teachers are preparing for it, it will count for something."
Kurt Hirsch, a Walt Whitman High School junior who said he watched with dismay as the board reached the decision, pointed out the new policy will mean the exams he takes this year will be worth twice as much. "My distinct feeling is that students are against it," he said.
Rockville High student Ward Morrow said the higher value is "too much to put on one day." He said conditions varied so much from school to school that the policy would not be a uniform one. "For instance, some buildings are air-conditioned, and some are not," he said.
Board members Elizabeth W. Spencer and Blair G. Ewing opposed the change. Spencer, a former math and science teacher, said not all exams are equally important and thus equal grading should not be given to each one. "In my experience they would vary from class to class," she said.
Spencer objected to board chairman Carol F. Wallace's argument that students are better prepared for college by taking exams that are worth more. "We are running a school system for every kind of student, not just those headed for college," Spencer said.
Ewing said the change will restrict teachers' freedom. "It seems to me that some degree of flexibility should be allowed to teachers," he said, "and to set the figure at 25 percent for every teacher in every class is to reflect judgment on the ability of these teachers." Greenblatt originally proposed a 25 percent figure, but Ewing argued for 15 percent.
School superintendent Edward Andrews, who proposed a 15 percent grading policy, said his calculations showed higher exam values will not have much impact on students' overall grades. "The difference is more psychological than practical," he said.
"Since there is not that much difference in terms of impact on the final grade, it would be more in the interest of the youngster to take the 15 percent," he added.
But Joseph R. Barse, who proposed the 20 percent figure, said "students need this extra motivation." He said heavier final exams also will be good "for students who are late bloomers" in courses.
Morrow told board members that increasing exam values means more care must be taken that tests are fair. He said almost all the students at his school knew the questions of a recent English test before it was given. "The tests were found lying around," he said. "Everyone knew the answers of the English test. The more emphasis you put on the test, the more you are going to have a problem with this."
The task force, which will report to the board before the end of the school year, will examine ways to persuade more students to take advanced level courses and a "more rigorous academic program."