Music students? No.

Physical education students. Not for them either.

Kids taking these courses at Oak Park and River Forest High School can learn how to play a musical instrument or a team sport. But those courses and a handful of others aren’t counted toward a student’s grade point average.

That fact has been a point of contention for some parents and their kids enrolled in those courses. In response to those concerns, beginning in September the high school will review its GPA classifications regarding certain courses. The review will also look at the class ranking system, which the GPA is used to help calculate. Along with music, physical education and driver’s education, Photo Design Publication, the course that produces Tabula, the school’s yearbook, is also not included in calculating a GPA.

The review is welcomed by some in the high school community, including Christy Harris, president of OPRF’s Concert Tour Association – the “Boosters for the music program,” she said.

“From our perspective, we hope they will be included in the GPA,” Harris said of music courses.

As for why music and other course are not counted, Harris said she’s been unable to get a clear answer from the school. Phillip Prale, Dist. 200 assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said the school’s current system has been in place since the mid-1990s, if not longer. As for what courses are included in the GPA, the school looks at certain criteria, Prale said, such as whether a curriculum is used, and if the coursework is aligned with state standards.

OPRF’s 2009-2010 academic catalogue doesn’t offer an explanation but states which coursework is excluded from the GPA. While some courses are “weighted” – that is, calculated in the GPA – others are “un-weighted.” The school’s newspaper, Trapeze, and its student-produced cable show, Newscene, are not weighted, nor are academic support programs.

But according to Harris, OPRF is unique in not including music. She said her group surveyed 50 high schools comparable to OPRF in Illinois and within its conference, including New Trier and Evanston Township High School. None excluded music from their GPA, she said. Harris, whose son is a senior at OPRF enrolled in Jazz band, noted that her group isn’t just singling out music but wants to look at the entire grading procedure at the high school.

District 200 Supt. Attila Weninger, however, noted that there is no one standard that high schools use concerning weighting courses. He said OPRF will look at what other high schools use in creating a weighted grading system.

“Every high school does it differently; there are many, many variations of this,” he said. “The other thing is: do schools regularly report both weighted and un-weighted? In our system only certain courses are weighted. In other systems, all courses are weighted but they’re weighted differently.”

Weninger added that some schools don’t report a GPA at all, instead using a deciles system; for instance, kids ranked in the top 20thor 30thpercentile.

“It isn’t one-size fits all,” he said. “There isn’t something out there that schools look to and say, ‘OK, we’ll take that and use it.’ They pretty much develop their own based on their school, their community, the culture-that kind of stuff.”

OPRF’s review next fall will also look at how universities view high school GPAs. Harris said her son, who plays trumpet, wants to study music education and has a pretty rigorous music course load at OPRF. She maintains that that should count toward his GPA.

OPRF coursework excluded from the GPA

  • Physical education
  • Musical performance groups
  • Driver’s education
  • Academic strategies
  • Academic support
  • Newscene
  • School publications (Trapeze and school yearbook, called Tabula)

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