Weighted discussion continues

Posted: Thursday, May 06, 2004

Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education remain conflicted about the possibility of introducing weighted grades in the district, but they're ready to make a decision.

Board members met for a second work session on the issue Monday in Seward, rehashing several arguments for and against the change. Ultimately, most members said they weren't sure how they would vote but wanted the administration to bring forward an action item at the next board meeting.

The informal suggestion the board has been considering involves giving extra credit on the grade point average scale to students who take certified Advanced Placement courses and the associated national test.

Last month, the board discussed the potential inequity involved in providing extra credit for the classes, which aren't offered at all high schools in the district. Small, rural schools rarely have AP classes or even sufficient technology for online versions of the courses while even schools like Seward and Homer struggle to offer the classes consistently.

Some board members argued that the system would place students at small schools at a disadvantage when competing for scholarships against students at the district's larger schools.

On the other hand, other board members said the current system places Kenai Peninsula students at a disadvantage when competing for state and national scholarships or college admission. Many school districts throughout the country including Anchorage and Fairbanks use some type of weighted grade system, though there is not a consistent formula for weighting grades.

Sammy Crawford, who has long been a proponent of creating a weighted grade system, said the inconsistency of grade weighting can be a problem nationwide. That's why she wanted to limit the weighting to AP classes, which have national standards.

She said the classes focus heavily on nonfiction writing, which is a crucial tenant of education, and the weighting would give students an incentive to challenge themselves without risking their grade point averages.

"In a time of budget crunches, let's do something positive for kids," she said.

Sunni Hilts said she understood those points but wondered why nonfiction writing and challenging course work weren't standard for all students across the district.

"Maybe we should be looking into why aren't kids prepared with the basic courses. I do think kids should be offered advanced opportunities, but if the basics aren't good enough, maybe we should focus on that," she said.

As for the idea that students without weighted grades are at a disadvantage in the scholarship and college market, student board representative Patrick Tilbury offered up his own experiences.

"I'm a junior, so I've been looking at lots (of colleges and scholarships)," he said. "They all ask for your GPA on a four-point scale."

One promising idea that came out of Monday's discussion was the possibility of setting a criteria for weighted grades and letting individual schools decide whether to offer them.

Ultimately, though, the board's decision remains unclear.

"It's time for action one way or another," said board President Deb Germano, asking the district's administration to bring a formal proposal before the board at its June meeting.

In the meantime, board members said they don't know what will happen.

"I've been moved in both directions," said board member Debra Mullins. "I'm waiting to see where I'm going to settle. I haven't made up my mind yet."

Board member Nels Anderson agreed.

"I can go either way on this," he said. "It's just pleasant to have a discussion about kids instead of budget cuts."

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