23 October 2019
On September 3rd, new changes to the Howard County Public School System were set in place by the Board of Education including the dress code reform, the no-extra-credit policy, and the abolishment of the class rank system, all of which focus on improving student mastery of content and creating a better learning environment for both teachers and students.
“Mastery is the key, right? Have you mastered the content, have you mastered the particular skill?” said Mr. Robert Motley, the principle of Atholton High School. “If we’re looking at mastery, then let’s truly stand by what we believe.”
Part of achieving mastery is reducing the stress students feel in the school environment. With this in mind, The Board of Education has done away with the class ranking system, a educational change that has slowly started to creep across the country over the last few years. This year is the last year that HCPSS seniors will have a class rank, which is established by student’s GPAs. According to Mr. Motley, the class ranking system can do more harm than good, as students may feel unsuccessful when they com-
pare themselves to the rest of the high-achieving student population.
Another “mastery policy” is the no-extra-credit policy, or policy 8020, which prevents any student from receiving extra credit. The reason for this policy was to eliminate the chance to inflate a student’s grade with extra credit, ensuring student grades are indicative of their participation and understanding of curriculum material, according to Mr. Motley. This forces students to focus on mastering the material, and it places more emphasis on the importance of tests and quizzes.
There may be policies on the way, however, to alleviate the implications of that focus. These policies will afford students a second chance to prove mastery through retakes and resubmissions. While these policies are still being discussed by the Board, Mr. Motley has encouraged Atholton teachers to allow students other opportunities to show their mastery of material, potentially making up lost points.
In addition to the new academic policy changes, the other major alteration to school life this year is the new dress code. The changes made to the dress code include lighter restrictions on attire, such as being able to wear hats and hoods in class, and being able to use wearable technologies, such as headphones or air pods, during class. However, teachers are able to require students remove their hood or headphones if they are interfering with the learning environment.
For example, if a student is listening to music during a test or a lecture, the teacher can make them take off their headphones. This policy allows for greater self-expression and also aims to create better relationships and alleviate contentions between staff and the student body.
The transition to the new dress code has been mostly smooth. However, the wearable technology portion of the dress code has sparked some concerns.
“[Freshman students are] not handling the responsibility very well when it comes to handling technology,” said Mr. Motley. “I think it’s leaving middle school, coming to high school and being told ‘You can do whatever you want now’…they’re not used to the responsibility.”
Social Studies teacher Mr. Richard Jones reported that he had seen his ninth-graders having some issues with using their new freedoms a little too much as compared to his upperclassmen, but that they were not a serious problem.
While teachers may be worried about how the dress code might affect learning in class,
most students feel that the new dress code is an improvement. “I think the dress code is extremely progressive, and as someone who believes strongly in freedom of expression, it’s great,” said Junior Sydney Ash.
The new policies were implemented to help students focus on improving their understanding of course material by focusing on mastery and by eliminating the extra stress that comes with academic competition and restrictive dress codes. Over the next few years, Mr. Motley said that it is very likely the county will introduce even more “mastery policies”. For the moment, the Board is monitoring how the policies are being received to inform their plans for future policies.
So far, these new changes have been met rather well by the students and staff. Many students prefer the changes to the old rules and hope that the changes will stay. Still, as Mr. Motley put it, “There’s always room for improvement.”