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833 board opts for 'weighted grades' in high schools

Sophomores and juniors at Woodbury and Park high schools, beginning this school year, can receive an additional 1.2 grade points for each Advanced Placement class they take.

The District 833 School Board excluded seniors from the recommendation by a steering committee of secondary educators, including Randy Zipf, assistant superintendent for secondary education, Linda Plante, Woodbury High School principal, and Rick Spicuzza, district director of curriculum and instruction.

The committee recommended adding "weighted grades" as an incentive for students to take more rigorous classes.

With no additional reward for taking an Advanced Placement class, some students choose to take traditional classes. Without weighted grades, an "A" earned in either class results in the same number of grade points.

Some students chose not to risk getting a "B" in a AP class when they are sure they can get an "A" in a traditional class.

Most metropolitan districts have some form of weighted grading system, according to Zipf.

While supporting implementing a weighted-grade system, school board members got bogged down after two board workshops on whether to start immediately or phase it in starting with this year's 10th-graders. They also discussed offering retroactive grades for students who have already taken AP classes.

After two amendments to the committee recommendation, the board compromised on starting this year with 10th- and 11th-graders. In 2009-2010, this year's 11th-graders will be seniors, so all students can take advantage of the incentive.

Steering committee members, in their recommendation, said high grade point averages are important to students applying for scholarships.

Board member Jim Gelbmann, who had a handout illustrating his point, said it's not fair to offer weighted grades to seniors without giving them retroactive credit for AP classes they took as 10th- and 11th-graders.

Some students, he argued, took as many AP classes as possible during those two years.

Giving retroactive credits would be difficult to keep track of and open the door for mistakes, Zipf said. It might also change grade point averages for graduation, raising it for some and not for others.

Gelbmann said that illustrated his point and moved to amend the recommendation to offer weighted grades for 10th-graders only.

Large numbers of parents are supporting weighted grades, according to Superintendent Tom Nelson.

"They're saying 'It's about time. Let's get it done,'" he said.

Board member Tracy Brunnette said it's not known how many students would be affected by the change for all three grade levels.

"That's changing the rules in the middle of the game," she said.

Gelbmann said many parents are not paying attention because it's summer. There could be an outcry from parents about the change.

There will be an outcry from parents if the district doesn't offer weighted grades to all students, according to Leslee Boyd, board member.

"A lot of people are expecting it," she said.

Parents want it started this fall, said Marsha Adou, board member, with more AP classes being offered this year.

There might be a problem if a 10th-grader is getting a weighted grade while in a class that includes juniors and seniors who would not, she said.

"I don't see a problem with some people getting weighted grades and others not," Gelbmann said. "The only way you don't have an adverse effect is to have it phased in."

"Remember, the impetus is to get kids to take more rigorous classes," Plante said. "Lots of people are waiting."

The amendment passed 4-3 with Adou, Boyd and board chair Ron Kath voting against.

The recommendation also includes doing away with "A+" grades, which the steering committee concluded leaves too much discretion to the classroom teacher. The grades are unevenly applied, according to Zipf.

After the recommendation passed to include only 10th-graders, Boyd said she had second thoughts about doing away with "A+." because there is no longer a way for teachers to reward students.

"But it's taken away from everybody," said Ellen Ayers, board member.

Boyd offered an amendment to give weighted grades to 11th-graders.

"That's what I was going to propose if the first amendment didn't pass," Gelbmann said.

The amendment passed with board members Brunnette and Ayers voting against.