Pinellas education officials are quietly considering making honors classes less valuable toward students' grade-point averages than more challenging college-level courses also offered at high schools.
Under the current system, honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and dual-enrollment courses are all weighted on a 5.0 scale. Regular classes are worth a point less, with an "A" earning a 4.0.
But superintendent Michael Grego told the Tampa Bay Times that he'll speak with guidance counselors and high school principals about possibly changing the weighting system, putting honors classes somewhere between regular and college-level courses.
"The weight should be commensurate to the difficulty of the course," Grego said.
While the proposed change may seem small, it could have a big impact on students competing for class-ranking spots and scholarships. It also could prompt more students to sign up for Advanced Placement classes as soon as this fall.
School Board Chairwoman Carol Cook said she could see the board taking up the matter before the start of next school year. She said she would support a change only if it began with incoming freshmen, so that students already partially through their high school careers wouldn't be affected.
The School Board first would put together a committee to study the issue, Cook said. "I'm thinking it's probably not going to take that long; they're going to say, 'Yeah, honors courses are designed to be more rigorous than regular courses but not as rigorous as AP,' so I think it would be a fairly easy decision to make."
Pinellas could make this happen by either increasing the weight of AP, IB and dual-enrollment courses or decreasing the value of honors courses. Several school officials discussed a scenario in which the honors grading scale could go as high as 4.5 points, instead of five.
Hillsborough County public schools already differentiates between honors and college-level courses, with students earning twice as many "bonus points" toward their GPAs for AP, IB and dual-enrollment classes. Several other large districts, including Palm Beach County, also award fewer points to honors classes.
At a School Board workshop last week, a handful of students asked Grego and the School Board why college-level classes, intended to be more difficult, counted the same toward their GPAs as honors classes.
Grego, who became superintendent in September, said he had not realized the classes received the same weight. Cook said she had not known that the School Board could change the system.
Linda Lerner, who has served on the board for 23 years, said the issue had never been raised during that time. The question came up "probably because there are many more students taking AP classes now," Lerner said.
The district's high school students filled 10,773 seats in AP courses last year (some students took multiple classes).
"There has been a real push in the district to get students into AP classes, so that could be part of it," Lerner added.
Lerner said she'd like to hear more about the pros and cons of a policy shift, while School Board member Terry Krassner said she has reservations.
Krassner said her children always told her that earning college credit was the added incentive to take AP classes — not the extra grading point. She said she was unsure that tweaking the course weight was necessary.
Some parents said they were concerned that demoting honors courses could have unintended consequences.
Tanya Repka, the mother of a junior at Seminole High School and a freshman at Osceola High, said students might stop taking difficult honors courses like Anatomy of Physiology — concluding: Why take a hard class if it's not going to pay off?
"They do oral exams, they have to stand up there and be grilled on their ability to point through the skeleton and get the stuff right, right then. . . . Everybody knows it's hard. They wouldn't take it. They'd avoid it," Repka said.
Andrea Cappelli, whose daughter is a sophomore at Seminole, worried that raising the attractiveness of an AP or IB class could foster more competition among high school students already packing their resumes for college.
"I do have trouble with the degree of competition and how we're burning out our kids to get the extra point, and another extra point," Cappelli said.
But ask her daughter, 16-year-old Maddie, and you'll hear that the change makes plenty of sense.
"Kids still work hard in honors, but AP kids have to do a little extra more work," she said. "So, it'd be nice to get the extra credit."
Contact Lisa Gartner at email@example.com. You can also follow her on Twitter (@lisagartner).