It's a small change, and Howard County's high school students surely won't cease writing poems that sing, essays that stretch. But on its face, it seems stark: As of September, the county will no longer recommend that high school teachers consider a student's originality when assigning a grade.

The Board of Education last week tweaked its grading policy, which suggested that in determining a high school student's level of achievement, a teacher consider competence (as shown in tests and the like), assignments and preparations, participation, daily work habits, initiative and originality.

At the urging of a 13-member committee, the board approved a new mission statement that said grading must be done in a consistent manner and eliminated the last two criteria--initiative and originality.

Administrative coordinator Eugene Streagle, who sat on the committee and oversees the county's high schools, said that "initiative" got booted because it's impossible for a teacher to measure how hard a student tried.

As for "originality," he said: "We really couldn't figure out how to grade something like that, and we really couldn't define it. Since we couldn't clearly define it, we just left it out."

"We don't want to put teachers inside the box," Streagle said, by forcing them to assign an A, B or C to how well students think outside the box.

Before you envision a Brave New World where soma-addicted students flit about unable to wax poetic on Shakespeare, rest assured. Teachers can supplement the county's suggested grading criteria with their own.

"English, art--there are certain subjects where originality, creativity are certainly going to be a factor," said Marshall Peterson, principal of Oakland Mills High School. "If you're doing a science project, the creativity is one of the things that's going to be taken into account."

So teachers can grade for originality. If they take the initiative.