In the world of competitive academia, a fraction of a point could determine a college admission, a scholarship or other award.
That’s the issue Sealy ISD board of trustees is dealing with as Jeri Dulaney, director of the Sealy campus of Blinn College, challenges the high school’s grade point rating.
Her questions came after learning that AP classes count more toward the total GPA than dual credit courses, which Blinn College offers and, seeing a marked decrease in students signing up for dual credit courses.
During the public comments section of the April 18 school board meeting, she questioned why AP classes are given a greater weight.
“This is a real shame. Parents need to have all the information so that they can make an informed decision,” said Dulaney.
Although the GPA rating criteria has stayed virtually the same for the past three years, the crop of incoming juniors is the first class to sign up under the system and dual credit students at Blinn have decreased by about half, according to Dulaney.
The one point weight given to AP courses gives them half-point advantage against the already weighted dual credit courses.
This is attracting students vying for valedictorian and top 10 percent of their class to AP rather than dual credit courses at Blinn.
“I’m glad that we have Blinn here,” said Megan Oliver, principal at Sealy High School. “We want the students to be successful. We try to do what is best for the entire student body.”
Several issues have popped up in the weighted grade issue that include appropriate communication to parents and students about the programs, costs, likelihood of getting college credit and acceptance.
But at the heart of it no one wants to sever ties between Sealy ISD and Blinn College in the discussion.
By losing high school dual credit enrollment, Blinn estimates losing roughly $20,500 if it counts the 36 students enrolled who usually take two classes each.
Each class is $285, paid by the student.
“It’s very significant,” said Dulaney.
AP classes are free to take at the high school, and while the end of course test cost $87, proven financial need can bring that down to $26. But, Sealy ISD pays for the test, whether the student passes or not, as long as the student took the corresponding class.
While dual credit students have to pay up front, they are guaranteed college credit at most universities by passing the class, reducing a cost for some college courses.
There are no studies available comparing AP courses to community college courses, which would be difficult because colleges and professors vary.
But argument for that .5 rating increase for AP has been based on a district push for students to take higher level and AP courses and a belief that the rigor of an AP class should earn more.
Other professionals tout the rigor of getting college credit from a course and a highly regarded test compared to passing a dual credit course.
Both these arguments are based on consistency.
AP exams are written by professors nationwide and are scored externally by thousands of professors and teachers. Plus, the teachers have special training to teach the course in each subject. The grading alone has more vigor than any one high school or professor, said Trevor Packer, senior vice president of Advanced Placement and College Readiness at College Board.
College Board puts together the AP program and administers the exams.
Packer also said that he has heard admissions officers complain about dual credit and sees why the high school is giving it more weight.
“It’s perceived as so much easier for getting credit,” he said.
But College Board doesn’t want to detract from dual credit as it works with AP in increasing the likelihood of getting into college and graduating on time.
“We really do like dual credit, in many ways they offer courses in subjects that AP does not,” he said.
Dulaney reported that 92 percent of Sealy High School students who took dual credit at Blinn received college credit.
J. S. Hamilton, a professor and chair of the history department at Baylor University, has worked with admissions and acts as a grader for European History AP exams.
“There is an oversight to the syllabus and the most important thing is the exam,” he said about the rigor of AP.
Community colleges have to be credited, so they teach acceptable courses, but individual universities might vary on acceptance of dual credit compared to AP.
“The thing about AP is that there is a national curriculum. Every teacher who teaches the AP curriculum has to be reviewed and approved,” he said.
Teaching and grading are made to be more consistent, but appearance to admission is also important. Generally speaking, the number of AP courses is important, Hamilton said.
“If your school has AP then they would expect the student to take a fair number of those,” he said. “Not that (students) are trying to take easier routes.”
Informing students and parents
The change in the GPA weights, applied starting the 2009-10 academic year, comes after research gathered from other districts and college recommendations. Any changes come from administration, said Oliver. She is not allowed to respond directly to a public comment at a board meeting.
A majority of Dulaney’s speech to the school board revolved around providing more data to parents and students about dual credit and AP. The statistics that she brought to the table focused on the likelihood of attaining college credit.
Students only get college credit if they pass the AP test, not just the class at the end of the year and score a 4 or 5. Some colleges accept 3s. Taking a dual credit course means getting the credit, if the desired university accepts it, as long as the student passes the class.
“Well, it’s like they’re bullying the kids into taking AP,” said Dulaney.
She plans on getting more information out about the benefits and cons of both courses and making sure parents can help make the right decision for the students. They hope to make the courses weighed equally for GPA consideration.
It really does vary with each child’s academic plan on whether to go directly to a four-year university or to a community college first. Which college accepts what and what are the costs? It’s probably best to consult individual counselors, said Packer.
“I’m not saying AP is for everybody and I’m not saying dual credit is for everybody,” said Dulaney. “It’s just not right not to let these kids have a viable choice.”