School considers changing class ranking formula

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, March 12, 2014
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Elective classes could soon be excluded from determining a student’s grade point average at Decatur High School.

The DISD school board next week will consider major changes to the way a student’s grade point average is calculated. The changes are designed to “level the playing field,” according to Judi Bell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

The high school currently uses a 4-,5- and 6-point grading scale. The system encourages students, particularly those who are trying to finish in the top 10 percent, to take the 6-point courses while discouraging them from taking the 4-point courses.

“It got to the point where students weren’t picking classes based on what they really wanted to take, they were taking things based on how they could move up one or two class rankings,” Bell said.

The current GPA system places the same emphasis on advanced core academic classes as it does on some electives. For instance, courses like yearbook II and acappella choir honors have the same weight as pre-AP courses in physics and calculus.

Also, the school offers multiple weighted classes in fine arts compared to only one in animal science and none for athletics – putting students who don’t choose fine arts at a disadvantage.

Bell and high school principal Jason Cochran are proposing that the 6-point scale be eliminated, and only advanced courses such as pre-AP, AP and dual credit courses carry a potential five points. Core classes – English, math, science, social studies and a foreign language – will be on the four-point scale, Cochran said.

Students would still get credit for electives, and it would be on their transcripts for colleges or universities to see, but the grades would not be calculated in a student’s GPA.

The proposed changes come at a time when school districts across the state are reviewing their policies and course offerings to bring them in line with the requirements of House Bill 5, passed by the Texas Legislature last spring. One of those requirements is the elimination of the current graduation options available to students: the minimum, recommended and distinguished plans.

Those options have been replaced with the foundation plan, which includes:

  • four credits of English language arts;
  • three credits each of math, science and social studies;
  • two credits of languages other than English;
  • one credit each of physical education and fine arts, and
  • five credits of electives.

In addition to that plan, students may earn an endorsement by earning four credits each in math and science, two additional elective credits and curriculum requirements for the endorsement, which are still being determined by the State Board of Education. A student must earn 26 credits to graduate.

House Bill 5 laid out five different endorsements, or pathways, for schools to offer. Those endorsements include:

  • STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),
  • public services,
  • business and industry,
  • arts and humanities, and
  • multidisciplinary studies.

Schools are required to offer at least one of those endorsements. If a school only offers one endorsement, it must be the multidisciplinary plan. Bell said Decatur will start by offering the multidisciplinary plan for students entering ninth grade in the fall.

Cochran said House Bill 5 allowed school districts to review the way classes are weighted and how to make it more equitable and fair for students.

“Seeing that opportunity, we’ve looked at every course we offer, every pathway a kid could take, and said, ‘Does predetermining a pathway predetermine your class rank?’ You don’t want that scenario at all,” he said.

Instead, the pathways set in place by House Bill 5 are designed to allow students to “pursue their passion,” Bell said.

Cochran said the proposal they came up with should better prepare students for life after high school.

“Every kid may not be going to college, but every kid deserves the opportunity at Decatur High School to say, ‘I have the choice,'” Cochran said. “‘I’ve been appropriately trained, I’ve had these opportunities, now I get the choice to go left or right.

“‘I’m not forced down a path. I’m not forced into the workforce; I’m not forced into the university, but I’ve proven myself college AND career ready.’ Too often we focus on college OR career readiness. We owe it to the kids to have that option.”

The school board is expected to vote on the proposed changes at its meeting Monday, March 17, at the administration building’s new location, 307 S. Cates St. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. with a closed session, followed by open session. The public is welcome.

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