Half of Montgomery County's 22 high schools are violating a school board regulation requiring honors courses to be identified on students' transcripts.
In only 11 high schools do the transcripts, which are students' permanent records and are submitted with college applications, indicate when a student has enrolled in an accelerated class. Even then, there is no uniform method of identifying the classes.
Administrators at some schools said they pencil in an (H) after the class grade. Others said they attach a mimeographed explanation of the class and the grade.
Advanced placement classes, which are so titled in the countywide course catalogue and are preparatory classes for a special college credit exam, are identified on all high school transcripts. Students who pass the special exam receive college credit and do not have to repeat the material at the college level.
The discrepancy in recording honors courses has caused a mixed reaction among parents and teachers in this county where more than 75 percent of all graduating seniors go to college. Parents charge that students in the schools that do not identify advanced classes on transcripts are at a disadvantage when applying to colleges if they compete with students whose records indicate honors courses.
Teachers in these schools counter that although an honors grading policy is on the books there is no countywide definition of what an honors course is or what degree of difficulty a class must reach before it is considered accelerated.
As a consequence, school administrators reported wide variances in their methods for determining when a student should receive credit for taking an honors course. In some schools, students receive credit for being placed in the most difficult section of a course, but in others only science or high-level math classes are considered accelerated.
The school board grading policy, adopted in 1979, states that students' transcripts must contain a "clear identification and brief description of all advanced placement or honors courses."
"Well, if some schools aren't doing that, then they should," said county school spokesman Kenneth Muir when told that a check of all county high schools revealed that half were not indicating whether a student was enrolled in a class that school officials considered accelerated.
Because of the confusion over what constitutes an honors class, the number of courses in this category dffers from school to school.
At Walt Whitman, only two classes -- both advanced science courses -- are marked "RL," for rapid learner. In schools with an honors grading system, a student's grade is followed by an honors notation if enrollment in that class is limited to students who meet the course criteria set by school administrators. This category could include advanced levels of a course required for all students.
At Poolesville High School, a counselor said there are no honors courses except the advanced placement courses. Guidance counselor Elaine Gorman said class sections are not divided according to ability as they are in some of the larger schools.
Still, some school officials criticized the notion of an honors marking, claiming that college admissions officers are attuned to what is an advanced course and what is not.
"College admissions people know their business," said Joseph Monty, a counselor at Einstein High School in Kensington and past president of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors.
"Only 6 percent of all high school students in the nation take physics," Monty said. "When they see physics on the transcipt, they know they're dealing with a different sort of person.
"I can see why a parent thinks their child might deserve recognition (for taking an accelerated course) . . . but college admissions people really do look at the content of a course . . . . There is too much worry here and (parents) are too attuned to every little nuance of getting ahead of the other person," Monty said.
Schools reporting use of some form of an honors grading policy were Northwood, Whitman, Woodward, Wooten, Blair, Churchill, Magruder, Montgomery, Rockville, Seneca Valley and Kennedy.
Schools reporting no honors notation policy were Sherwood, Springbrook, Wheaton, Paint Branch, Peary, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, Damascus, Einstein, Gaithersburg, Walter Johnson and Poolesville.