In a county where students academically elbow their way toward the coveted title of valedictorian, the ground rules are about to change.
Loudoun school leaders want to double the weight of dual enrollment courses to match Advanced Placement courses. This way students worried about their class rank on graduation day will have just as much incentive to take a dual enrollment course as AP.
Right now, students can earn as much as a 1.0 bonus point toward their grade point average for an AP course. But a dual enrollment course earns them just .5 bonus point. Buoyed by completed AP courses, GPAs now reach far above the conventional 4.0 and, for the top-achievers, are close to 4.8.
Both AP and dual enrollment courses are considered more rigorous than general education courses, but students only earn college credit for their AP classes if they score high enough on an end-of-the-year exam. Dual enrollment courses function as if students were enrolled both in high school and college simultaneously, and most Virginia colleges and universities accept dual enrollment course credits.
“We want to encourage students to challenge themselves and strengthen their learning and remove any barriers that they might have to do that,” said Nereida Gonzalez-Sales, director of high school education in Loudoun.
She presented the information to the School Board on Tuesday.
Parents and students have been asking for a fairer playing field for dual enrollment and AP classes. It was one of the top requests in the school system’s most recent parent survey.
“This is an example of us listening to stakeholders,” Assistant Superintendent Cynthia Ambrose told School Board members.
Woodgrove High School Principal Sam Shipp and Director of Guidance Geri Fiore have advocated a bump in dual enrollment courses’ weight. Woodgrove boasts some of the largest dual enrollment numbers of any Loudoun high school.
“This is something students are concerned about,” Fiore said. “Students sometimes shy away from taking them because they’re weighted less. We don’t want dual enrollment to be viewed as subpar as compared to AP.”
She gave the example of Woodgrove’s AP calculus BC class, which is weighted a 1.0 but serves as a prerequisite for the dual enrollment multivariable class. “So multivariable is the highest math course that we offer but it’s only weighted .5 because it’s a dual enrollment.”
Upper classmen signed up for dual enrollment courses next year and looking to bolster their GPA shouldn’t get excited just yet. The change will begin with next school year’s freshmen, so the class of 2021.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), whose daughter is a junior in high school, asked why Gonzalez-Sales was recommending the change wait for the class of 2021. “I have to ask this question because I know I’ll get it when I get home,” he said.
Gonzalez-Sales responded, “We want to make sure families know and understand what the changes are in advance so that they can make informed choices.”
Her staff, working alongside the board’s Curriculum and Instruction Committee, wants to roll out another grading change.
The staff is recommending that students who drop a course halfway through receive either a Withdraw Pass or Withdraw Fail on their report card, instead of an F.
[See the new policy language that is being considered here.]
Gonzalez-Sales said some students find they are in over their heads or come down with health problems that make it difficult to complete a class. “We do not want to penalize them if they haven’t quite figured it out,” she said.
The School Board is expected to adopt the changes at its June 27 meeting.