Joe Nathan Column: Legislators wisely listening as students ask for equal treatment

by Joe Nathan – Six high school students spoke out last week, and legislators listened.

As college costs rise, families are looking for ways to help youngsters be better prepared and earn college credits while still in high school.

Pictured are, from left, Sam Petrov, Beisite Wang, Henry Hoang, Rep. Linda  Slocum, Wendy Hughes, Michelle Nguyen and Cherish Kovach. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Pictured are, from left, Sam Petrov, Beisite Wang, Henry Hoang, Rep. Linda  Slocum, Wendy Hughes, Michelle Nguyen and Cherish Kovach. (Photo by Joe Nathan)

Richfield High School students Sam Petrov, Beisite Wang, Henry Hoang, Wendy Hughes, Michelle Nguyen and Cherish Kovach – most of whom have taken college-level courses on both high school and college campuses – asked for something simple. They urged equal treatment when their high school grade point average is figured, regardless of where their college-level courses are taught.

Joe Nathan

Joe Nathan

In a survey of 34 districts and charter leaders, I found that most agree with what the students suggest.

GPA is important for scholarships. Some colleges and universities use GPAs to determine whether students are accepted.

Unfortunately the Richfield School Board rejected students’ request to have equal weighting for college-level courses taught on a high school and college campus.

But Minnesota’s House Education Policy Committee heard and agreed with the students. On a bipartisan voice vote of about 10-1, legislators agreed to give districts two options: either weigh all dual-credit courses equally (above other courses) or weigh all high school courses equally, with no extra “weight” on students’ GPAs for taking college-level courses.

Thirty-four districts and charter school leaders responded when I asked last week about how they figured GPAs:

– 17 rated all high school courses equally, giving no extra weight to college-level courses.

– Four gave extra weight to all dual-credit courses, whether offered at the high school or on a college campus.

– Seven gave extra weight only to college-level courses offered in their school and no extra weight to PSEO courses taught on a college campus.

– Two weight dual-credit courses taught in the high school and will review courses taught on college campuses to determine value.

– One gives some, but not as much weight to PSEO courses as to college-level courses taught in the high school.

– Three do some variation of the above.

Districts currently ask colleges to accept college-level courses that their high school faculty teach, including those like College in the Schools and concurrent enrollment, that don’t have nationally scored tests. Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate do use national tests. Since high schools faculty ask college faculty to trust them, shouldn’t high school faculty trust the value of courses on college campuses?

Robbinsdale Superintendent Aldo Sicoli wrote: “We do not weight courses in the Robbinsdale School District. All courses are labeled appropriately on the transcript so a college will know if the student took a rigorous course such as an AP, IB or PSEO course. All credits, including PSEO credits, do count towards a student’s unweighted GPA and towards graduation.”

Ben Barton, Caledonia superintendent wrote via email, “To my knowledge, Caledonia has never weighted grades.” Other districts that don’t weight grades include Cambridge, Columbia Heights, Eden Prairie, Forest Lake, Hopkins, Little Falls, Milaca, Minneapolis, Monticello, New Heights, North Branch, Rush City, St. Louis Park, Pierz, and Princeton.

Six districts wrote that they weight college-level courses taught in their high schools but not PSEO courses taught on college campuses.

For example, Bloomington Superintendent Les Fujitake explained that the district does not weight PSEO courses “Because the district has control over staff development, curriculum development and the rigor of the courses (taught in the schools). The district does not have this control over PSEO courses.”

Farmington Superintendent Jay Haugen wrote: “We currently weight AP and all concurrent enrollment courses (CIS – U of M, and Senior to Sophomore – SCSU) that are taught by FHS staff. Students enrolled in these courses have their GPA weighted with a 1.2 multiplier based on a standard 4.0 grading system. For classes at outside institutions for which we control neither the instructor, nor the content, we do not weight grades. We are not in a position to evaluate the quality of the instructor nor the rigor of the course.”

Richfield High School Principal Jason Wenschlag told me that the district provides a 1.3 weighting for college-level courses taught at the high school, and a 1.2 weighting for some PSEO courses. He noted: “We know the curriculum, how it is taught, the assessments used and the expectations given to students. We recognize, too, that in-house RHS students may be taking up to seven honors-level, advanced courses per semester, while PSEO students are limited in the credits they can complete, which means they typically take an average of four courses in a semester. Finally, we are not in the position to judge various postsecondary schools, their instructors, their syllabi or their expectations. Even in situations where curriculum and instruction are supposed to be the same (i.e. U of M classes on campus vs. U of M CIS classes at RHS), we know variability exists between schools and instructors.”

Four districts automatically weight both college-level courses taught in their high schools and those on college campuses: Braham, Princeton, St. Paul and Upsala.

Many community and business groups across the political spectrum supported the GPA weighting bill, HF 2049, which includes the students’ ideas. Support comes from, among other groups, Growth and Justice, Parents United, the African American Leadership Forum, Hector Garcia of the Chicano/Latino Affairs Council, Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs, MinnCan, Minnesota Business Partnership, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and the Center for School Change, where I work.

The Minnesota Association of School Administrators and the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals testified against the bill, arguing that districts should be allowed to decide.

The bill would allow districts to decide between two options – while preserving equal treatment of all college level courses. Some districts are trying to encourage students to stay in the high school classes so dollars don’t flow to the college to pay for PSEO courses. The vast majority of youngsters are choosing courses offered in high schools.

The House bill prizes both local decisions and equal treatment of dual credit courses. That seems like a reasonable compromise.

Richfield students and state legislators wisely are encouraging more students to take these courses and asking schools to treat them equally.

 

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, joe@centerforschoolchange.org.

 

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