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Parent criticizes new grading policy at Morris Area High School

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MORRIS, Minn. -- Should students who take classes for credit but not a letter grade have those classes included in their high school grade point average, a measurement used to determine class rank and scholarship eligibility?

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That was a question raised to the Morris Area School Board on Monday when parent Somkiat Viratyosin told board he disagreed with a new high school policy that would count classes taken pass/fail as part of the student's high school GPA.

In the past, classes taken pass/fail were considered GPA neutral -- students got credit for taking the class, but it didn't affect their GPA or class rank. Under the new policy, classes taken pass/fail at Morris Area High School or at a college for high school credit will be counted as a 2.0, the equivalent of a "C."

"This new way of coding a 'P' as a 2.0 grade point is not a customary way of calculating GPA," said Viratyosin.

Viratyosin said he didn't think the new policy should be applied to the class of 2014, who will have already registered for their classes for the year without knowing about the change.

Superintendent Scott Monson told the board that there are some exceptions to this rule, primarily for classes that are only offered pass/fail like music lessons, driver's ed, or working as a teaching assistant.

During the comment period, Clare Dingley, registrar at the University of Minnesota, Morris, told the board that she was concerned that the policy does not match how universities like UMM calculate grades. If a MAHS student is taking classes at UMM full time, there could be a discrepancy in their GPA because UMM doesn't include their equivalent of a pass/fail class in GPA calculations.

Monson urged the board to focus on policy at MAHS, noting that the district couldn't worry about how a policy would mesh with policies at every college or university students may attend.

"If this is what you decide, which is recommended by administration, it's just something we're going to have to work through and understand," said Monson.

Board member Robyn VanEps said she was concerned that seniors didn't have this information about a new policy when they registered for classes last fall.

Monson told the board that students have time at the beginning of the semester to change the grading scale on any of their classes. The district is also meeting with students taking classes at a college where the policy will be explained.

"I don't think it's as big of an issue as you might believe that it is," said Monson.

High School Principal Craig Peterson told the board that the policy is not retroactive, so will only affect students going forward. Individual students can also fill out a waiver request form to have a class exempt from the new policy that will be reviewed by Peterson and counselor Tamy Roth.

Peterson said an underlying reason for the change is that students have used pass/fail classes to keep their GPA high and keep other students from passing them in class rank.

"It's not a level playing field," said Peterson. "It's playing games and manipulating GPAs. And that's one thing that I don't want to play as an administrator. I'm not going to manipulate GPAs and have the haves and the have nots when it comes to grade point averages."

"The undertone here is that we want kids to challenge themselves," said Monson. "That's what Mr. Peterson and our staff is trying to do. Taking a class pass/fail isn't always challenging yourself."

In his comments, Viratyosin also criticized the administration and the board about the process used to approve the handbook, arguing that details were not available to the public while the handbook was being considered.

"There's no room for people who have disagreement until it was already decided," said Viratyosin.

A full copy of the MAHS Parent-Student Handbook is available online at http://morris.k12.mn.us/page/3204. The section of the handbook related to pass/fail grades reads as follows: 

Student Accounting Policies & Regulations (Policy 515)

C. Pass/Fail Grade:

Any student opting to take a course as pass/fail must elect do so in writing the previous semester. Students can obtain the pass/fail form in the high school office. Students are only allowed to take 1 Pass/Fail course per semester. All P's on the transcript will be coded as a 2.0 grade point average on the official transcript.

***Exemptions: Teacher Assistant, Music lessons, Music ensembles

-- MAHS Student Handbook 2013-2014, page 18

Other business

• The board accepted the resignations of Tamy Reese, early childhood program coordinator, and Brittany Nelson, youth coordinator, with Morris Community Education. The board also approved a two-month contract for Cindy Perkins, who just completed her tenure as director of Morris Community Education.

• Due to changes enacted in this year's legislative session, the board no longer needs to hold a separate Truth in Taxation hearing to go over the district's budget with the public. Instead, the board passed a resolution setting the date and time for a discussion of the proposed school levies -- Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the Morris Area High School Auditorium. The preliminary levy will be discussed at the board's Sept. 16 meeting.

• The board tabled Policy 902, a policy on the use of school district equipment and facilities. Board member Brent Fuhrman suggested tabling the policy until September to give district and community education staff time to look at raising rental rates five percent across the board.

"We all know revenue is about to become a problem and most of us have been privy to conversations about the wear and tear on our school and the repairs that are on the horizon," said Fuhrman.

Copies of all district policies are available online at http://morris.k12.mn.us/page/2587.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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