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 students 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.

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?

Bloomington Schools Superintendent Les Fujitake wrote that the district weights those college level courses taught in the high school, but not PSEO courses taught on college campuses “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.”

Tony Taschner, district communications specialist at Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan schools, wrote: “All courses that are eligible for honors ranking are weighted equally, include all Advanced Placement and College in the Schools courses. Whether concurrent enrollment and PSEO courses are eligible for honors ranking is dependent on the curriculum used by the institution. When a student is accepted for a PSEO course, the school counselor and department head review the curriculum used by the institution to determine if the course is eligible for honors ranking. Presently, our only concurrent enrollment partnership is with Inver Hills Community College; these courses are not eligible for honors ranking in our district.”

Many community and business groups across the political spectrum supported the GPA weighting bill, House File 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 students 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]. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.