Parents protest grading change
By MONIQUE FIELDS, Times Staff Writer
EAST LAKE -- Arnie Pantoja will receive a quality point for passing honors American government this year at East Lake High School.
His classmate Josh Prior took the same course as a freshman and didn't receive any extra credit.
Both seniors say that isn't right.
"We're taking the exact same class and doing the exact same work," Pantoja said Monday. "It's good for me, but it's unfair to him."
But those are the rules Pinellas school officials have adopted.
Starting this year, the school district will award quality points in 88 additional honors classes. School officials said they made the change so that all honors classes receive quality points. They also want to keep Pinellas students competitive with students from other counties.
But Pinellas officials decided not to retroactively award quality points to students who had taken any of the 88 classes in previous years.
That means if Pantoja receives an A in honors American government this semester, he will receive a 5.0 instead of a 4.0. Prior will be stuck with the same points he received three years ago.
East Lake parents and students are so upset about the new policy they are circulating petitions and plan to ask the School Board tonight to revisit the issue.
"There's an uneven playing field," said Gail Johnson, vice chairwoman of East Lake's School Advisory Committee.
Josh Prior's mother agreed. She said he could move to a neighboring county and receive quality points retroactively.
"We are really handicapping our students," said Denise Prior, chairwoman of East Lake's SAC.
For years, Pinellas didn't award quality points for honors classes it deemed introductory, such as honors English I. That meant honors courses typically taken by ninth- and 10-graders didn't carry quality points.
Pinellas considered three possible changes to the system this summer. Each had positive and negative points, said Catherine Fleeger, assistant superintendent for high school education and workforce development.
School administrators first leaned toward making the quality points retroactive; students who previously took honors classes could have seen their grade point averages jump. But that scenario was deemed unfair by school officials, especially for students who chose not to take advanced classes in the past because they didn't carry the possibility of quality points.
Guidance counselors pictured droves of students saying, "If I had known, I could have made the same choice," said Keturah Pittman, a guidance coordinator at St. Petersburg High School.
Some St. Petersburg High parents strongly opposed retroactively awarding quality points. Pittman said the best solution would have been to award new quality points only to ninth-graders while keeping everything the same for students in other grades.
That, too, proved problematic. Students in all grades would have been able to take the courses, but only the ninth graders would have received the quality points.
Ultimately, school administrators decided to allow all students in all grade levels the opportunity to gain the extra credit this year. Some parents say that's unfair to students who took courses earlier in their high school career, because it could give one student in the same graduating class an advantage over another in class rankings.
To alleviate this problem, the district will calculate class rank for valedictorians and salutatorians by hand. School officials said they may make adjustments if the rankings for the top two spots are affected by the new quality points.
As for college admissions, state schools tend to look at course titles and recalculate grade-point averages based on their own formulas. Scholarships are trickier, with each one devising its own set of criteria.
The change in quality points also affects eighth-graders who take honors high school courses while in middle school. Students who previously completed those courses won't receive any quality points. Middle school students taking those honors courses this year will receive quality points when they enter high school next fall, Fleeger said.
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