Guest column: Dual-credit frustrations, opportunities focus of Nov. 5 meeting

By Joe Nathan – Guest Columnist

Minnesota parents and educators – some of whom are deeply frustrated about obstacles being created for students who want to take dual-credit courses – are meeting 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 5 in St. Paul.

The free meeting, co-sponsored by 25 education, community and business groups, will bring together people seeking ways to overcome resistance and barriers to various dual-credit courses. Some of the problems have been created by college and university groups, some by school districts. Generation Next and the Holman Fund of the St. Paul Foundation are supporting the meeting. More information about the meeting, to be held at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, 451 Lexington Parkway N., is available here: bit.ly/2cw63JR.

Taking a dual-credit course on a high school or a college campus, or via the internet, helps increase chances that a student not only will graduate from high school but also will graduate from a one-, two- or four-year postsecondary program. It also can save families thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars. That’s good for students and taxpayers.

St. Paul College student Khalique Rogers, who will speak at the conference, took College in the Schools courses offered by his high school with the University of Minnesota. But St. Paul College ruled that neither his CIS writing course nor his public speaking course met “core requirements” for an AA degree. Rogers summed things up well: “Administrators sometimes make it more about themselves than about what’s best for students.”

Conference co-sponsors – including Minnesota Rural Education Association, Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, and Center for School Change, where I work – have written to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System asking to meet with its leadership team, which makes critical decisions. Among those decisions is an increase of up to 100 percent in costs over the next several years for small district and charters offering concurrent enrollment classes in the high school. Education and community groups also want to talk with MnSCU’s leadership team about system plans to assess “tested” experience. Those are part of new requirements that the regional Higher Learning Commission is imposing on Minnesota schools.

MnSCU Board Chair Michael Vekich and MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone have rejected requests to meet with MnSCU’s leadership team, instead referring educators and community members to individual MnSCU institutions. But MnSCU memos show that key decisions are made by the leadership team.

Parents also are learning that some colleges and universities accept more dual-credit courses than others. And a course taken at one public institution is not necessarily accepted for “core graduation credit” at another public institution.

Some families also are frustrated by some high schools’ efforts to discourage students from taking Postsecondary Enrollment Option courses by giving extra weight on GPAs to Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and College in the Schools courses taken in high schools, but not giving equal credit on GPAs to PSEO courses on college campuses or the internet.

I checked with 16 rural, urban and suburban district and charter schools about this.

Eight either do not weight grades or they weigh all dual-credit courses equally: Caledonia, Cambridge-Isanti, Hopkins, Milaca, Minneapolis and North Branch give all courses equal weight, while others like St. Paul and Spectrum High School in Elk River give extra weight to all dual-credit courses.

Minnetonka weights grades for AP and IB courses if students earn a C or better. If PSEO students could confirm their courses are as rigorous as AP or IB and also earn a C or better, they, too, could have their GPAs weighted.

Seven of the 16 reported that they weight or otherwise honor college-level courses offered in their high schools, but not PSEO courses. Doug Austin, St. Francis High School principal, acknowledged that part of the rationale for weighting AP and CIS but not PSEO is “to keep students at the high school.” Ironically, several districts give extra weight to CIS classes whose curriculum and content is set by college faculty, but then refuse to weight classes taught by college faculty – some of whom designed the CIS courses!

GPAs matter because some scholarships are available only to those in the top 10 percent of their graduation class. Some colleges and universities use class rank, determined by GPAs, to help decide which students to admit.

Here’s what some area schools reported.

Ric Dressen, Edina Public Schools superintendent, explained via email: “AP grades have a 1.2 weight factor. CIS and PSEO classes are not weighted but noted in the transcript.”

Vanessta Spark, Spectrum High School executive director, explained through email: “Spectrum weights AP, concurrent enrollment, and PSEO classes equally. They all receive a weight of .25 calculated into their GPA.”

Meanwhile, Bruce Watkins, Elk River Area Schools interim superintendent, wrote through email that the district weights AP and CIS but not PSEO classes.

“ISD 728 does weight AP and CIS courses by elevating them .34. Example: If a regular B is weighted at 3.0 and a weighted B is a 3.34. A regular A is 4.0 and a weighted A is 4.34. Although we, of course, recognize and count PSEO credits, they are not weighted, and we do not control their rigor or content,” he wrote.

John Schultz, Hopkins Public Schools superintendent, explained via email, “We do not weight grades!”

Dennis Peterson, Minnetonka Public Schools superintendent, wrote via email: “We weight AP and IB grades if the student receives a C or higher. We would consider PSEO if the student can verify the course is equivalent to an IB or AP course in rigor, and they would need the C grade as well.”

Amy Parnell, director of communications and community engagement for Wayzata Public Schools, wrote via email: “I checked with Scott Gengler, our high school principal, and he said that only Advanced Placement courses are weighted. Students in AP courses are assigned regular grades but receive three additional GPA points for each letter grade of C- and above.”

K-12 and postsecondary systems should be first and foremost about serving students. On Nov. 5, people will discuss how to move closer to that goal.

Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, is a former director and now senior fellow at the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at joe@centerforschoolchange.org.