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INDIANA: School directors vote to change honors grading structure

by on February 27, 2013 11:00 AM

The Indiana Area school board rejected a change in the way some Indiana Area Senior High School students earn their grades and approved another grade-change proposal at the board’s semimonthly meeting Monday.

The directors turned down a recommendation to count the students’ performance on advanced placement tests through the College Board in calculating their grade for class work in the corresponding AP course.

Before the vote, social studies teacher Michael Tshudy told the board of the AP teachers’ opposition to the idea, which was recommended by the board’s academic and extracurricular committee.

Among the faculty objections, Tshudy said, are that students who earn high grades for class work sometimes achieve a lower score on the College Board test and would lose their class standing if their grade averages were reduced.

Many of them, however, are seniors, he said.

“The motion does nothing to address the group where the scores are lowest on the AP exams, because seniors have graduated before AP exam scores are available” and any reduction of their GPA would be meaningless because they already have been accepted to universities, Tshudy said.

“Further, we believe it’s unfair to apply such a policy to sophomores and juniors but not seniors, and it would probably create an incentive for students ... to defer their AP classes to their senior year when they could avoid the risk of such a penalty.”

In the public comment session, former school director Douglas Steve criticized the board for acting swiftly on a series of academic changes at the senior high and asked directors to take more time to study all the details of the proposals before them. The proposals first appeared on the board agenda Jan. 28.

“Since these radical changes were so rushed, you have parents and students asking questions concerning scheduling to the guidance office and teachers. And the answer to most questions: ‘We don’t know,’” Steve said.

In debate over the proposal, board member David Ferguson said an AP exam is one way, but not the only way, to validate the quality of the education the students actually receive in their classes.

“We value AP instruction, but we value that it is effective,” Ferguson said. “By and large that instruction seems to be effective as measured by the test.

“What I’m looking for is some way that we can be assured that those who are teaching these courses are giving the students the utmost rigor, and we would like to see that consistent among all AP classes. That’s what I’m looking for.”

The board voted 8-1 against the proposal, with Ferguson, board President Thomas Harley, Vice President Walter Schroth, Alison Billon, Hilliary Creely, Diana Paccapaniccia, Brian Petersen and Robert Werner opposed and Robert Gongaware in favor.

In other business Monday, the board:

n Approved the academic committee’s recommendation to assign higher point values for grades in honors classes at the senior high school beginning with the Class of 2017 — students who will enter ninth grade this fall. For them and the students who follow them, an “A” grade in an honors class would be worth 4.25 points, compared to 4.0 points for a regular class. The change was approved on an 8-1 vote with Harley, Billon, Creely, Ferguson, Gong-aware, Paccapaniccia, Petersen and Werner in favor and Schroth opposed.

n Changed the school calendar to cancel kindergarten classes to allow pre-kindergarten students and parents to visit with teachers May 13 for Horace Mann Elementary School, May 14 for Ben Franklin Elementary School, May 15 for East Pike Elementary School and May 16 for Eisenhower Elementary School.

n Approved a change order in the contract with Constellation NewEnergy for the energy-efficiency upgrade project in the amount of $15,189.75 for unforeseen plumbing upgrades in the senior high and four elementary schools. The cost was said to be covered by a contingency fund built into the contract.

n Accepted the retirement of Eisenhower Elementary School teacher Grace Bennett, who has worked 23 years in the district.

n Accepted the resignation for personal reasons of junior high food service worker Anita Kelly, effective March 1.

n Authorized the administration to apply to the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees for a grant to purchase an electric cello for the Indie Strings Program.

n Approved an agreement with Seneca Valley School District for the use of Seneca’s online education program platform for courses offered through IDEAL — Indiana Digital Education Academy for Learning — at a cost of $250 per course.

Chauncey Ross is the Gazette’s fixture at Indiana Area and Homer-Center school board meetings, has been seen with pen and notepad in area police stations and courts, and is something of an Open Records Act and Sunshine Law advocate. He also manages the Gazette’s websites and answers your questions about them.
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