Inclusion of all grades in GPAs at OPRF stirs parents

? Forum asks parents for input on making grading changes. Grading committee has discussed philosophy for 18 months.

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By DREW CARTER

Of all the possible changes to Oak Park and River Forest High School's grading system, the question of whether to include grades earned in physical education, driver's education and music performance classes drew the most attention at a forum Monday night at the high school.

One parent questioned the logic of including grades from all other fine arts classes in grade point averages?#34;except music performance classes?#34;and audience members applauded after one parent called including driver's ed grades in GPAs "silly."

The forum was designed to cull opinions such as those from parents. Phil Prale, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, who moderated the forum, said it did just that.

"We did get some feedback, but we're still looking for more, and we're still getting more," Prale said Tuesday. He felt the meeting was well-attended, and people there felt they got to ask their questions and be heard. "I think we accomplished our goals for the night," said Prale.

Gap-inspired but not gap-influenced

The move to rethink grading at OPRF began after the Learning Community Performance Gap Report suggested it as one of 17 areas for further study in May 2003.

A Philosophy of Grading Committee was formed, chaired by Principal/Supt. Susan Bridge, with Prale, former Asst. Supt. for Curriculum and Instruction Richard Deptuch, and 11 faculty members representing each academic division.

But Prale made clear Monday night that any changes to the grading system would not be designed to close the gap, only to make grading as "fair and equitable" as it can be to all students.

Prale and the committee surveyed the faculty, then boiled grading issues down to six. The committee developed "ideas" about making changes that represent not recommendations but "where we are right now," Prale said.

The committee presented its ideas, outlined above in the sidebar, to parent groups in January.

Prale noted continually Monday night that no decisions have been made, and that more discussion will take place before any recommendations are made to the board of education. At that time, the community will be invited to make further comments, he said.

Including PE broadens recognition

The grading committee took an informal poll of peer high schools. Some include PE and other non-academic courses, some don't, while others include some courses, or even some parts of courses.

But Prale said the decision to include the courses in students' GPAs should be one that's made locally, and not because it's what other schools do.

The thrust behind including the grades is to recognize "student achievement in all areas and [consider] all areas of student work as part of the student grade point average," according to an OPRF statement distributed at the forum.

"In discussing the inclusion of these courses in GPA calculation, the committee explored whether those classes used a developed curriculum, taught content and skills, and could delineate what constitutes student achievement using a grading scale," the statement reads in part.

However, Prale said that not necessarily all three types of courses currently not included in GPA calculations would be recommended for inclusion.

A man who identified himself as a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Business Administration said admissions at state schools and DePaul and Loyola universities base decisions for some students only on an index calculated by ACT scores and class rank.

Including grades for PE and other non-academic classes would "water down" OPRF's strong academic reputation among universities, he said, "altering our admissions decisions, and altering them for the worse."

Contact: dcarter@wjinc.com

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