Weighted course topic draws parents to Rhinelander School Board committee meeting
By Eileen Persike
For the third time in seven months, the Rhinelander school board Instruction and Accountability Committee tackled the topic of grading practices, class rank and weighted classes. At Monday’s meeting, the committee again made no recommendation, instead asking for more information.
The conversation began in May 2019 when the Rhinelander High School (RHS) Building Leadership Team presented a proposal to remove the weighting, or extra points, from all classes in order to achieve educational equity. The team stated several findings they said support the proposal, including the lack of protocols or guidelines to determine weight, four schools in the Great Northern Conference have dropped weighted classes, and Wisconsin colleges and universities no longer heavily consider GPA and class rank when admitting students. The team supported the idea of moving to a laude system instead.
Several parents were in attendance at Monday’s meeting. Rachel Hoffman, director of teaching, learning and technology for the district, put forth a recommendation that, instead of dropping all weighting, three groups of courses would be weighted. Advanced Placement, dual credit (classes that would give students high school and college credit) and Advanced Standing (similar to dual credit, except college credit would not be automatic) courses would receive extra weight. Though some classes would be dropped from list of weighted classes, additional dual credit courses would be added to the curriculum. According to the proposal, mathematical reasoning, welding, accounting 1, nursing assistant and others that lean toward a technical secondary education would be considered weighted classes.
“Many people will have a hard time wrapping their heads around these because they may seem to be such basic, easy-ish classes as compared to a more difficult AP class,” Superintendent Kelli Jacobi said. “But if our criteria is, they can get college credit while they’re in high school, which is good for all kids and it can help their parents…we want to make sure we’re looking at all of the kids who are getting college credit.”
Kersti Lamers spoke up as a parent and as a RHS math teacher, saying that two of the math classes that are dual credit and would become weighted classes are not as challenging as others.
“They are not anywhere near the rigor of a pre-calculus class, and they are below the rigor of two lead-up classes that lead up to pre-calculus,” Lamers said. “So they are basic, basic, basic math and they would be considered weighted. I agree you have to have some criteria, some rules to fall back on, but I do think the rigor of the course, that’s why weighting had been established.”
Ted Shinners, who has children in the district, said he thinks that whether a class gives a student college credit is an issue separate from whether a class should be weighted.
“What’s the purpose of weighting? Is it to get the kid to take the class or is it to give them credit for the mountain they climbed that was 10,000 feet versus 5,000 feet,” Shinners questioned. “They are two separate issues that we’re trying to put into one.”
Hoffman provided information on how the top five ranked schools in Wisconsin and the U.S. dealt with weighted grading, and reported that it appears schools each have their own grading systems. She also said the “weighted courses inequity” has become an issue in the district as they are beginning to offer more learning options in both traditional classrooms and online classes.
Parent Chris Younker said he thinks the proposal underestimates the value of a student being challenged.
“We’re talking about balancing the curriculum for all students, making it equal, these kinds of thoughts,” said Younker. “The real world isn’t balanced and equal. To me, I think we’re penalizing the high-achieving students at the school, and even the middle-of-the-road students, like I was…I took all the AP-advanced classes and I never got A’s. I was always in class with very brilliant people, but it helped bring me up to a different level.”
Board president Ron Counter suggested the process was just beginning, and more information will be needed to make a final decision.