Legislators wisely listening as students ask for equal treatment

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.

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.

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.

Braham Superintendent Greg Winter wrote: “We weight an additional 1.0 on all PSEO courses and all concurrent college courses (College in Schools) within our high school. We currently do not offer any AP courses. We weight these grades in an attempt to create a balance between offering higher level courses that carry with them college expectations and understanding that students are sensitive to their GPA and its impact on scholarships and placement. Every year we take a look at the outcomes of our students that take these courses and make sure this delicate balance has been achieved. So far, we feel that we have created a fair system that does not tip the scale too far in regards to grade inflation for those students who choose to challenge themselves by taking these higher level courses.”

Cambridge-Isanti High School Principal Mitchell Clausen wrote: “We do not weight our grades any different for any class. Our ‘reasoning’ behind not weighting the grades are two-fold. One: Students at the high school level should experience a variety of classes/experiences, then make a decision on what they would like to pursue in choosing their postsecondary paths. They will only take weighted classes over non-weighted classes because of the extra GPA points, thus not experiencing elective courses that may have been very suitable to them. The elective courses suffer. Two: When the majority of students apply for postsecondary options, the college of their choice states they want the un-weighted GPA.

“We have found students take the AP, CIS and PSEO for the credits and rigor not the GPA. We will continue to have un-weighted GPAs because we value the electives and the many choices our students have for classes.

Forest Lake Principal Steve Massey told me via email: “We do not weight dual-credit courses. Our rationale for this is that colleges unweight grades when considering GPAs.”

Milaca Superintendent Jerry Hansen wrote via email: “We do not weight grades. Students earn more credit for college-level classes. A 3-credit college class earns 0.75 high school credit, and a 4-credit college class earns 1.0 high school credit. We have a 4.0 GPA scale. Weighted classes could negatively impact enrollment in other classes. Many colleges ask if our grades are weighted, and if they are, they ask for an unweighted GPA.”

North Branch High School Principal Glen Stevens told me via email: “North Branch Area does not have a policy for weighing any of our upper level classes compared to our regular courses. There has been conversation about establishing some guidelines, but nothing has been set. According to our office manager, who’s been here over 20 years, she does not recall there ever being a weighing policy at NBAHS.”

Princeton Superintendent Julia Espe wrote: “Princeton does not have grade weighting. PSEO students are considered to be our students, just like all other students. They do qualify for GPA, class rank and honors. There is no distinction between PSEO students and students who stay for school at Princeton High School campus.”

Rep. Sondra Erickson, Princeton, who has co-authored the legislation with other Democrats and Republicans, wrote: “I always support students and their pursuit for the best possible educational setting for themselves during their high school years. This proposal provides the opportunity both for parents and students to find the best fit and for students to earn college credit at the same time. … However, I want parents and students to know that Minnesota K-12 offers many options for high school students to learn at their optimum level.”

Rush City High School Principal Brent Stavig said all classes there are weighted the same, using a 4.0 scale.

Stillwater Superintendent Corey Lunn wrote: “We weight courses that have an external component to AP because of the nationally standardized exam and the college credit-earning potential and College in the Schools courses that are approved through our curriculum adoption process.

“We do not weight PSEO courses because they are not taught in our schools and we do not know the rigor of all of the courses.”

Tom Kearney, director at New Heights Charter in Stillwater told me, “We do not have a formal policy regarding weighting of grades for AP or PSEO classes.”

Suburban districts vary. Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Robbinsdale and St. Louis Park do not give extra weight to college level courses for students’ GPAs. Bloomington, Edina, Minnetonka and Wayzata have policies similar to Stillwater’s.

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, [email protected]

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