Weight is over

School board changes district grading system

Posted: Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Hours of debate, clarification and rationalization finally yielded a change in the weighted grades system at the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District board meeting Monday night.

The board ruled by a narrow vote of 5 in favor, 4 opposed to pass Option 2, which states that a value of .021 of additional quality points would be added to the cumulative grade point average with any passing grade in an Advanced Placement (AP) class.

This immediately alters the June changes to AR 6146.1, where the weight of AP classes would have been on a straight 5 point GPA. The timing was critical to the vote because midyear reports are filed Saturday. Had the board not made a decision, this week, the report would have included the first batch of weighted grades.

The public comments were split as equally as the school board's whether to keep weighted grades. Seven members of the public spoke in favor, and eight against. The rudimentary case of the evening focused on Brian Hibberd, a senior at Skyview High School, who emphasized how the June ruling unintentionally penalized students taking the difficult AP classes.

"I've taken more AP classes than other students, and weighted grades brings my class rank from first down to sixth. I'm going to rely on scholarships, and the college I'm looking at stresses class rank," he said.

John Pothast, Hibberd's principal, said he had encountered countless problems with weighted grades previously for a 10-year stretch as an AP teacher in Arizona.

"Brian is a great example of the unforeseen consequences with weighted grades. Colleges get rid of the weights when they look at students anyway. They focus on the course work itself. This is not the solution," he said.

Brad Hibberd, Brian's father, testified that the consequences are too great to sit by.

"We all rushed into weighted grades without looking at the consequences," he said.

Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School Principal Sylvia Reynolds said she had previously been entirely against weighted grades.

"I came full circle with my thinking. Now, I don't agree with equal grades because some students pad their GPAs with P.E. classes. We have scholarships for athletes, so kids who take rigorous classes should get rewarded, too."

Other students, teachers and principals spoke, as well. Though on different sides of the issue, nearly all spoke in the name of fairness. Outgoing Kenai Central High School Principal Dennis Dunn said, "This is a really tough one. You have a really tough decision in front of you."

Dunn claimed that students take difficult classes simply for the experience of challenge.

"The grade assigned to the class is regardless. Kids take tough classes because they want to give themselves the best experience they can. As of now, we don't have a mechanism in place that will work, or that is always fair with grades," he said.

Upon adoption, board member Margaret Gilman said she was concerned about the change.

"I think with whatever we do, there is going to be another set of problems," she said.

Further decisions on revisions riddled the evening when the board took up the fiscal year 2005 budget. The approved budget of $81,263,357 was revised to read $83,017,786. The board approved an amendment to move $500,000 designated for the elementary reading curriculum into contingency. The $181,800 designated to upgrade deteriorating phone systems will also move into the contingency account.

In other business, the board unanimously approved resignations for Merlin Cordes, Nikolaevsk Elementary-High School, (effective Jan. 6), Dennis Dunn, principal, Kenai Central High School (effective at the end of the school year); Michael W. Wykis, principal, Sears Elementary, effective at the end of the school year; Candice L. Perry, social studies-P.E., Seward Middle High School (effective Dec. 30, 2004); Linell J. McCrum, special education resource, K-Beach Elementary (effective at the end of the school year); and John Owens, principal, Nikiski Middle-Senior High School (effective at the end of the school year).

The next school board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at the Borough Building in Soldotna.

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