Wilson County students may be in jeopardy to lose eligibility for HOPE scholarships thanks to a vote by the Wilson County Board of Education on Monday night.
The board discussed a number of issues while it looked at a new grading system resolution. Some of the items within the resolution were new requirements by the Tennessee Department of Education. Violation of those requirements meant the students would not be eligible for HOPE scholarships, according to Monty Wilson, deputy director of academics.
“Currently, the district is not in compliance with the uniform grading policy, which is set by the state Board of Education,” Wilson said in an email. “Specifically, our current policy does not weight grades as the policy requires. A uniform grading system is outlined in Tennessee for the following purpose: ‘Local school systems shall use the uniform grading system for students enrolled in [ninth through 12th grades] for purposes of application for postsecondary financial assistance administered by the Tennessee Student Assistance Corp.’”
The resolution was part of Director of Schools Donna Wright’s recommendations that involved a variety of things, such as exam exemption by students and the elimination of valedictorian and salutatorian status at graduation. The elimination of exam exemptions are not state mandated.
In previous years, a student with a 90 or higher average from the two nine-week grading periods and three or fewer excused absences would be exempt from the semester exam if the parent and/or student desires, according to Wright’s recommendation.
The new recommendation said the rule should only apply to seniors.
“When a senior is exempted from the examination, the semester average will be the average of the two-grading periods and any state-mandated exam. Any unexcused absence will disqualify the senior from semester exam exemptions. A senior will be eligible for exam exemption on a semester-by-semester basis. If a senior who qualifies for exam exemption elects to take his or her semester exam, the resulting exam grade shall not lower his or her semester average below the average of the two quarter grading periods,” Wright’s recommendation said.
Wright said Wilson County is one of the few, if not the last, county in the state to offer such a bonus to students. She said the exam exemption change is not a state-required issue, but rather a consensus of Wilson County’s high school principals.
Board member Kimberly McGee said she believed the exam exemption should remain and apply to all students.
Wright said she recommended the change because “some of our best and brightest have never sat for a final exam. We’re incentivizing the wrong thing. If kids are sick or have to miss school due to a death in the family, they’re upset. Kids are coming to school sick just so they don’t have to take the final exams. It’s very perverse to give the kids the idea to do whatever it takes, even if they’re sick.”
She said the final exam should be a measurement of what the student has learned during the semester. If they don’t take exams in high school, Wright said, then they are not prepared for them in college.
Still, whether they are excused in Wilson County, they are still considered by the state’s education department report card as absent. That will show Wilson County has chronic absenteeism during finals classes, she said.
There are ways the student can get a higher grade-point average and that is through weighted grades. That is a GPA where each grade is weighted by the number of credits offered by the class.
Weighted grades will be awarded as students who complete an honors class will receive an additional three points added to their final average, the resolution said. Students who complete local and statewide dual-credit courses, Capstone Industry Certification-aligned courses and dual enrollment courses will receive an additional four points added to their final average. Students who complete an Advanced Placement class will receive an additional five points added to their final average.
The additional 4 percentage points will then be added to the student’s final grade, the resolution said. Effective with students enrolled in high school as ninth graders prior to 2018, quality points for GPA will be adjusted.
Among those ways are final grades in honors classes and dual enrollment classes will be increased by 0.5 quality point. Final grades in any courses designated as an early postsecondary course, with the exception of local dual credit courses, will be increased by one quality point. This includes dual enrollment courses, statewide dual enrollment courses and National 18 Industry certification courses.
Final grades in Advanced Placement courses will be increased by one quality point if the student takes the corresponding Advanced Placement exam. If a student elects not to take an Advanced Placement exam, the student will receive an increase to his or her GPA by 0.5 quality points. Assigning quality points above a four for any course is not allowed for the purpose of determining eligibility for the HOPE scholarship.
In Wright’s recommendation, as per state regulations, “effective with students enrolled as ninth graders in 2018 and thereafter, students will not receive a class rank. Students will receive the Latin honors designation categories, based upon the following criteria: summa cum laude 4.25 and above; magna cum laude 4.0-4.24; and cum laude 3.75-3.99.”
Wright said most colleges do not admit students due to their class rank, but rather the student’s placement in the graduating class by percentage. The students can get their class rank upon request, but they would not have it outright.
“There may be a graduating class of 100 while someone else has a class of 600,” she said. “The colleges are looking at the top 10, top 20 percent of the students, as opposed to the ranking.”
She said it would start with the ninth graders, “because they do not have a [grade-point average] yet.” She added the benefit to not having a class rank is the students won’t be forced to take all Advanced Placement classes, but “can take what they want over the next four years. The students won’t have the compete at a certain level to get into the school they want.”
Board member Wayne McNeese disagreed with the resolution and said, “Many students thrive on that competition, not only in high school, but for the rest of their lives. Many of the students work hard to be valedictorian or salutatorian.”
The final vote was 4-3, to vote down the measure. Board members Bill Robinson, Chad Karl, McGee and McNeese voted no, and Larry Tomlinson, Linda Armistead and Tom Sottek voted yes.
Karl tried to revive the resolution with a wording change from “seniors” to “all students” in the exam exemption portion, but the measure failed because no one seconded the amendment.