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Wesley Chapel dad's crusade ends with honors credits for upper-level arts students

WESLEY CHAPEL — High school students across Florida no longer have to make the choice between grade point average and the arts, thanks to the actions of a Wesley Chapel dad.

Dean Tindall, whose son Nathan recently graduated from Wiregrass Ranch High, single-handedly convinced the Florida Department of Education to revise its course descriptions for 2012-13 so that many upper-level fine arts courses get the "honors" label that qualifies them for additional high school grade points.

"Some of them that were 'Level 3' courses weren't considered honors or advanced, but this policy change made that happen," DOE spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said. "The parent really did all the work. . . . That's what resulted in the change."

Now students whose districts give weighted credit for advanced courses will be able to take their upper-level band, music and related classes and get the grade-point benefit they seek, too, to keep their GPAs competitive for college applications and Bright Futures scholarship consideration.

"I did it for the students," Tindall said. "There was an injustice, and I wanted to see it corrected."

The issue came to his attention because of his son.

When Nathan Tindall started applying to colleges, he ranked second in his class. His decision to take advanced band pushed Tindall's grade point average in the wrong direction, though.

The reason: It wasn't listed as an honors course in the state's course guide. As a result, the Pasco County School District didn't give as much credit for an A in the class as it would have for an accelerated one.

Some other Florida school districts, by contrast, did offer a weighted grade for a similar course, which was rated Level 3 by the state — a designation for honors, International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, advanced college-preparatory courses and "other courses containing rigorous academic curriculum and performance standards."

State law says districts "may" give additional weight to courses meeting that "rigorous" Level 3 definition.

The discrepancy bothered Tindall. He figured that if his son was taking an accelerated course that the state found worthy of additional credit, his son should get the credit.

So he contacted the district seeking answers. When he didn't get what he considered a decent response, the detail-oriented information technology specialist began researching his options in law.

He soon found the problem was bigger than his son's one course. A couple of hundred courses in the state's curriculum guide were listed as Level 3, yet not identified as honors or college prep despite the statutory definition that all Level 3 courses should be considered as such.

Tindall next looked at Pasco's student progression plan, which states that the district gives added weight to all rigorous courses. An A in an honors course, for instance, would be worth 4.5 points in Pasco, compared to 4 points for a standard course. Reviewing other districts' plans, he found differences, too.

Pasco officials gave him a simple explanation.

"From our point of view, if the state thought Band V was rigorous, they should have said Band V is honors," said Darrell Huling, secondary curriculum supervisor.

Tindall turned to the state and asked why the courses weren't labeled as honors. He handed over his research and offered to help solve the problem.

And he found a responsive audience.

"We tried to go through and revise them so there was consistency," said Etters, the DOE spokeswoman.

Joel Quina, band director at Mitchell High School, was pleased with the outcome.

"The culture of education has shifted a lot in the past 25 years. We're looking at a hard push toward honors and AP courses," Quina said. "If we want to keep kids interested in our courses, we have to offer more rigor. I think it's really a positive thing."

He said many band students, like Nathan Tindall, would remain in the program regardless because it's their passion. But by giving the courses an honors label and adding tougher and more in-depth assignments along with added credit, he said, the students "now are able to do it and be rewarded for taking the challenge."

That's great news for Tindall, whose son doesn't benefit from the change. Nathan Tindall graduated third in his class, will attend Stanford University and has put the matter behind him.

"This is about the students as they go forward," Tindall said. "The end result I'm very happy with."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Wesley Chapel dad's crusade ends with honors credits for upper-level arts students 08/22/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 7:44pm]
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