Montgomery County high school students are concerned that last week's county Board of Education vote to reinstate a policy giving extra numerical "weight" to grades earned in advanced placement or honors classes could unfairly reward students in those classes who might not be working as hard as students in regular classes, a county student government leader says.
Under the board policy -- which was used in the 1960s and is being adopted again now to encourage students to take the more difficult advanced courses -- a "B" received in such a class would be worth an "A" in a regular class. To be implemented for the next school year, the plan calls for adding an additional point to a student's transcript for each passing grade received by students in advanced courses.
But Peter Robertson, president of the Montgomery County Region of the Maryland Association of Student Councils, said his group is concerned that the board decision could unfairly reflect student performance at every class level.
"The whole problem with grades is that it gives a factual-seeming base to what is subjective," Robertson said. "You can't measure a student's performance with an A, B, C or D. If you have weighted grades -- not entirely a quantitative set-up -- it could worsen grade inflation and cause other problems. For instance, if you have weighted grades, shouldn't you give 'slow' students credit for taking 'normal' courses?"
Weighted grades is an issue about which students believe their voting parents should know, Robertson said, and for that reason it is one of eight questions that student association members have posed in a questionnaire sent to board candidates in the current election.
Robertson said is group is also concerned that a proposal before the board to eliminate designated smoking areas for students on high school grounds could induce students to smoke in school bathrooms, inconveniencing their classmates and requiring teacher time for patrols.
And, although the county board voted last June to remove contraceptive information from the eighth grade health education curriculum, high school students said through their association representatives that they favored retaining it, the 16-year-old Robertson said.
Student consensus on these issues, as voiced by 70 delegates from 18 of Montgomery's 22 public high schools, was laid out in position papers presented to the school board. Although the countywide student group has been in existence since 1958, with only four schools in the county choosing not to send delegates, education officials say its influence is being particularly felt this fall.
The retiring board president, Eleanor Zappone, for one, credited the student group's position paper on smoking privileges with helping her to decide that she, also, does not want to "drive it [student smoking] underground."
Among the student association arguments against the abolition of designated smoking areas that Zappone cited as being especially persuasive was the contention that smokers would benefit more from educational programs on the hazards of smoking. But as important as the arguments themselves, Zappone said, was the students' "cogent" written presentation.
"Members of the board certainly take them seriously," Zappone said. "They're not frivolous or juvenile in their approach. It has been a good input; it has raised questions for us."
Robertson, a Rockville resident and Woodward High School junior who took office last May, is credited by board of education officials with revitalizing the student organization, which distributes a monthly newsletter to 700 student government association members and school newspaper editors.
Board officials say that more students are becoming involved in the countywide organization this year than in past years. About 145 of them -- more than twice the number of official delegates to the group -- attended the first organizational meeting in September, at which a B'nai B'rith International representative spoke about cults.
Why and how cults can attract some teen-agers is typical of the issues that county high school students are interested in now, said Robertson, who added that he wants to plan similar programs on issues such as teen-age unemployment, the juvenile court system and drug use and abuse. His organization tends to focus on issues that could result in board resolutions, Robertson said. Among them, he said, is the amount of board funding for student curricular activities. The countywide group currently receives $1,500 annually from the board to defray operating expenses and a total of up to $400 from the member schools.
At the moment, said Robertson, interviewed in an association office at Albert Einstein High school, "we're concerned about the general board election because of the impact it's going to have on the educational process for the next four years. How far is the back-to-basics approach going to go? Will this be the end of vocational education? Will there be standardized final exams?"
The student association has been sending questionnaires to board candidates for 10 years. This year's questionnaire asks candidates' positions on reinstatement of contraception information, uniform countywide final exams, student evaluation of teachers, voting rights for the student board member, reinstatement of a seven-period school day, more guidance counselors and additional funding for some student activities.
When the two board incumbents and six new candidates seeking seats respond to the questions, Robertson said, their answers will be the basis of a printed voters information guide to be distributed to students countywide.
Robertson said he also plans to encourage student representatives to investigate their classmates' interest in course offerings, class size and whether both college-bound and vocational students are accorded equal consideration in the county high school program.
"We may not uncover anything," Robertson said, "but if we do find things worthwhile to advise the board on, we'll make recommendations. I think adults are always willing to listen."