School district to offer proposed class changes to board

January 12, 2013

Sedalia school district administrators will present proposed changes in dual-credit courses and weighted classes to help meet new state mandates during Monday night’s school board meeting.

The fifth update of the Missouri School Improvement Program, known as MSIP5, includes a college and career readiness element that accounts for almost a third of a district’s Annual Performance Report score.

Carla Wheeler, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said a third of the college and career readiness scores will come from enrollment and achievement in advanced placement and dual-credit courses.

“And that is our lowest score of the group,” she said.

Advanced placement (AP) courses provide high school students the opportunity to take more difficult classes and, if they score high enough on an exit exam, earn college credit. Dual credit courses are college classes for which students receive both high school and college credit, so long as they pay the college tuition fee and earn a grade of at least a B. Weighted classes are those with a higher degree of difficulty, and thus merit more points toward a student’s grade-point average.

“Historically, at Smith-Cotton (High School), we have not given any weight to a dual-credit course, which is a college-level course,” Wheeler said.

Because of that, students who are trying to post the highest GPA in their class and become valedictorian often don’t take dual-credit courses for fear they will lower their GPA.

“We want to put weight on those, kind of for two reasons,” Wheeler said. “One is, those kids deserve the rigor and the preparation (dual-credit courses) will provide them when they go on to a four-year school; and second, it will provide us a higher MSIP score.”

Smith-Cotton High Principal Steve Triplett brought some proposed changes to the Dec. 17 school board meeting for discussion. His original thought, as a way to boost enrollment in dual-credit courses, was to add weight to dual-credit offerings and remove weight from all other courses. A couple of board members pushed back on the idea, citing how challenging upper-level science and math courses are. Triplett saw their line of thinking.

“After the board discussion, we decided to see what needs weight based on the rigor of the curriculum,” he said.

So Triplett met with teachers to discuss what classes merit being weighted.

“(Teachers) don’t get caught up in what is weighted and what isn’t,” he said. “They defended their curriculum. We had good conversations, and all of them handled it professionally.”

Honors courses do not carry extra weight now, and there is no plan to add it. Wheeler said honors courses typically are “accelerated,” but there is not enough difference with standard classes to merit weight.

That’s not the case with many dual-credit courses.

“We offer a five-hour calculus dual-credit course here, and we are giving kids no weighted credit,” she said. The same is true for dual-credit college algebra.

Wheeler noted that dual-credit courses cost less than regular college courses, so students can get the knowledge, earn the credit and save money.

Participation in advanced placement classes, which are weighted, has traditionally been limited. In the 2009-2010 school year, 4 percent of Smith-Cotton students were enrolled in AP courses. That moved up to 5 percent in 2010-11, then slid to 3 percent in 2011-12.

The numbers for dual-credit courses are muddied, because an individual student who takes multiple college-level courses is counted for each of his or her classes. While statistics say 16 percent of S-C students took dual-credit courses in 2010-11 and 31 percent in 2011-12, “that’s not a pure 31 percent,” Wheeler said.

For example, Curtis Rea, a member of S-C’s Class of 2012, received his associate’s degree from State Fair Community College the night before his high school commencement; he was counted separately for each of his dual-credit courses for both of those years.

But no matter how they are counted, Wheeler believes there are benefits to changing dual-credit course grading.

“Putting weight on that, I think, will increase those enrollments,” Wheeler said, which is what the district needs to secure better MSIP scores.

“In my heart, this is what I hope: That what MSIP is pushing for is rigor for kids — to prepare them for work, to prepare them for college.”

Whatever changes the board approves will go into effect for students entering ninth grade in the 2013-14 school year.

“We can’t change the rules in the middle of the game” for current high school students, Wheeler said.