August 6, 2008

Attendance, Credit Policies Dominate LCPS Board Meeting

By Ashley Meeks, Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M.

Aug. 6--LAS CRUCES -- On the cusp of the new school year, there was much discussion Tuesday at the first regular school board meeting about two new policies affecting grade-point averages and attendance.

Starting this year, freshmen and sophomores who take approved college-level courses will earn weighted credit; juniors and seniors may petition for the same. Weighted grade points earned are added directly to the cumulative GPA -- each AP or accelerated placement course earns .0344 bonus points.

Las Cruces High School Principal Nyeta Haines said there was a definite need for rewarding students who had exhausted the classes high schools had to offer, like the occasional student who will be in calculus in their freshman year, with nowhere but college classes to continue.

"I can think of five just off the top of my head," she said. "They took (college-level) calculus, physics, and did not get weighted credit. They had exhausted what we had."

A class in differential equations, she said, couldn't feasibly be offered to six students at a high school -- nor should a student who got a B in that class appear, on paper, to have achieved less than a student who got an A in pre-algebra.

She stressed that only high-level classes, especially in math, would benefit from the weighted grades: "You don't want to do it for basket-weaving at the university."

Steven Sanchez, associate superintendent for instruction, also addressed a concern that the policy might benefit families who could afford college courses. Six high school students on Tuesday, he said, had applied for a New Mexico State University physics class that wasn't on the list of approved accelerated courses. With one call, he said, NMSU was able to classify that class as dual-credit, so the students wouldn't have to pay for it. In addition, the instructional material fund would pick up the cost of those books, Sanchez said.

Also in effect this year, high school students will be required to attend 90 percent of a class to receive credit. The policy, a joint effort between the schools and the district attorney's office to combat truancy, will be explained to students when schedules are discussed the first day of school, Haines said. Sanchez said parents will receive letters after their child's third, fifth and seventh absence from class and that appeal forms have been developed as part of an intervention packet for habitual offenders.

In addition, valid reasons for absence -- such as band competitions, track meets or out-of-state drama performances -- would not jeopardize an otherwise on-track student's credits, according to Haines: "It's going to be reviewed and if there's valid reasons, that's going to be granted," she said.

Sanchez told the board he hoped to have a timeline for implementing similar policies in middle and elementary schools by September.


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