North Carolina’s high school seniors won’t get a chance to improve GPAs

High school seniors and parents lobbying for a chance to improve GPAs in a school year cut short by the COVID-19 crisis won’t get the chance to do so.

The State Board of Education (SBE) on Thursday voted 8-3 to reject requests to allow high school seniors to receive letter grades for spring courses instead of pass/withdraw marks approved for all seniors in March.

Being able to earn grades in spring courses was important to top students competing against North Carolina peers and out-of-state students for scholarships and coveted slots in the nation’s top colleges and universities

The pass/withdraw marks won’t count toward GPAs. Some students were counting on spring courses to improve GPAS but won’t be able to do so without being awarded grades.

Deputy State Superintendent of Innovation David Stegall

David Stegall, deputy State Superintendent of Innovation, said many other states are only giving pass/withdraw marks for seniors.

Stegall said higher education officials are focusing on students’ body of work over the course of their high school careers when making admission and scholarship decisions.

“Colleges have already said that they were going to pay more attention to the full picture of high school and not just spring semester,” Stegall said.

The board has approved a policy that allows students in grades 9-11 to choose grades.

SBE members and board advisors opposed to changing the policy argued that it would be unfair to change it in midstream because seniors who attended early colleges or joined the military have graduated.

“To change the rules right now would be unfair to many who made their personal decisions based on the policy we approved and now they would have no way to revisit their decision or to get those six weeks back,” said SBE member Jill Camnitz. “That to me, is an equity issue and I am guided by that and feel that we should not waiver from the policy we approved in March.”

SBE member Amy White made a plea to allow seniors to earn grades.

“In the discussions I have heard, I have not heard one valid argument regarding how one student’s choice to choose a grade, to not only appear on the transcript and be included in the GPA calculation, would harm another student’s choice to take a pass/withdrawal,”  White said.

She acknowledged that only a small percentage of students requested the policy change, but said the board should make the change to honor those students’ pursuit of academic excellence.

“We have seniors at the end of very successful academic careers,” White said. It’s a small percentage of students who desire this change, students who, for the large part, have placed excellence at the pinnacle of their 13-year academic journey.”

SBE members Olivia Oxendine and Todd Chasteen joined White in voting against keeping the policy approved in March.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest didn’t attend Thursday’s remote meeting.

But Forest did submit a letter read by White stating his preference for allowing seniors to earn grades.

“For many students this grade could decide their acceptance to a university outside North Carolina, determine if they are valedictorian, which my office has been contacted about,” Forest said in the letter. “It could determine if they could get a scholarship to reward them for all the hard work they put into their studies while distance learning.”

Many of the states 1.6 million K-12 students have engaged in distance learning since Gov. Roy Cooper ordered school buildings closed in mid-March.

Patrick Miller, the SBE superintendent advisor who leads Greene County Schools, said the North Carolina Schools Superintendents Association supported keeping the no grade policy for seniors.

He said most superintendents believe it would be unfair to students who have completed their studies to change the policy.

“Regardless of where you fall at this point, this issue comes down to timing,” Miller said. “It’s just too late in the game to make changes.”


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