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GPA policy change affects Decatur freshmen, sophomores

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Decatur school officials hope changes in the way grade point averages are calculated will put less emphasis on grades and more emphasis on preparing students for life after high school.

That goes for incoming sophomores as well as freshmen, following action taken Monday by the Decatur school board.

Changes to the GPA policy were made in March, to affect classes beginning with incoming freshmen. The six-point scale will be eliminated, and only advanced courses such as pre-AP, AP and dual-credit courses will carry a potential five points. Core classes – English, math, science, social studies and a foreign language – will be on the four-point scale.

Incoming juniors and seniors will continue to use the previous GPA policy.

Last month, the board discussed the possibility of applying the new GPA policy to incoming sophomores as well. Notifications were sent to sophomore parents over the past month to inform them of the possible changes and to get feedback.

Judi Bell, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said she had received only one phone call from a parent asking for more explanation.

“What we want parents to understand more than anything else is we are trying to broaden the choices for that sophomore class,” Bell said. “We really feel like this is a better GPA system that allows students to pursue the electives they want.

“It seems to be a detriment (under the old system) if they had to take a 4-point class, and it would actually bring down their GPA if they were trying for all the advanced classes,” she added. “This way, they can try an elective, take things they might not otherwise take without penalty to their GPA.”

The changes are taking place as schools across the state implement the required changes to graduation plans outlined in House Bill 5. Gone (at least beginning with the incoming freshmen) are the minimum, recommended and distinguished plans. Students will now be required to take the foundation plan. They will also be able to earn an endorsement on one of five “pathways” designed to help students take courses to prepare them for a college or a career.

Under the new GPA policy, grades earned for courses not calculated into the GPA will still be listed on the student’s transcript, meaning colleges will still be able to see those grades.

One hope with the policy change is that students will be encouraged to take tougher classes.

“At some point, the kids have to understand they have to look past today,” board president Kevin Haney said. “They’ve got to look at those electives, even if they are harder, it’s going to prepare them for either college or going into a work environment as opposed to taking some class that is easy. They need to challenge themselves.”

Board member Diana Mosley repeated concerns she had expressed at an earlier meeting about eliminating the six-point scale for AP courses. She said students who put forth the effort for the rigorous course should still be rewarded with the higher grading scale.

High school counselor Neal Hall told the board the school is prepared for schedule changes due to the new policy, adding that it’s not uncommon to deal with schedule changes in the summer and beginning of school.

The board voted 5-1 to apply the new GPA policy to sophomores as well as freshmen. Mosley cast the opposing vote.

PERFORMANCE INDEX SUMMARY

Bell also gave a presentation on the preliminary Performance Index Summary, which has replaced the AEIS data in the state’s school accountability system. She explained that the performance indicators are grouped into four indexes:

  • student achievement (STAAR results),
  • student progress,
  • closing performance gaps, and
  • postsecondary readiness.

She cautioned board members that comparing this year’s results to last year’s was like comparing “apples to oranges” since the scoring system is different.

All DISD campuses received a “met standard” rating except for McCarroll’s sixth grade campus, which was rated “improvement required.”

Bell explained that the campus missed meeting the standard by one point in the scoring system. She said six students were not counted in the rating since their scores from last year could not be located as a point of comparison on the student progress index.

Bell said those students likely transferred into the district and were entered into the system by a different name or some other coding error. Of the six, four passed the STAAR test.

The district will attempt to correct those errors and appeal the rating in hopes of bringing the campus up to the “met standard” level.

The school board also recognized the district’s three school resource officers – Zachary Berrier, Kevin Flake and Richard Hale – as support staff employees of the month.

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