Kingsport BOE concerned about special diploma with no GPA requirement

Rick Wagner • Mar 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Members of the Kingsport Board of Education are getting some details of Tennessee’s revamped high school graduation requirements and related mandates.

They’re not pleased that some less-than- stellar math students may be caught between special education and good math students, while career technical education students can avoid foreign language requirements if a school system agrees.

And don’t get them started about the “Honors” diploma that has no minimum grade point average requirement.

Damon Cathey, director of curriculum for Kingsport City Schools, gave the BOE a rundown of details of the graduation requirements and elective focus areas during a Thursday night work session.

The state is mandating a new “Graduation with Honors” program for any student who meets the ACT or SAT college preparedness benchmarks.

That is part of the Tennessee Diploma Project, which applies to all students entering the ninth grade this fall in the state. The program targets academic performance and is accompanied by new testing to replace the old TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Plan) and Gateway tests, which state and education leaders agree gave a much-too-rosy picture of students’ academic performance.

The “Honors” designation, according to information Cathey presented, will go to any student who makes an 18 in English, 22 in math, 24 in science and 25 in social studies regardless of their grade point average, as long as they fulfill graduation requirements of at least 22 credits.

Kingsport School Superintendent Richard Kitzmiller said about 35 percent of Dobyns-Bennett High School graduates would meet that criteria.

Cathey presented the board with a draft policy to give students with up to a 3.69 GPA a blue ribbon on their Honors medallion, those with a 3.7 to 3.99 GPA a white ribbon, and those with a 4.0 GPA a gold ribbon.

That mirrors existing recognition at D-B except it does not require a minimum GPA level, which the state is not requiring and BOE member Pat Turner said is troubling. Wally Boyd said the lack of a minimum GPA was hard for him to grasp, and Turner suggested a fourth ribbon to honor those who make the ACT score cutoff but have a GPA of less than 3.0.

The state also is implementing a “Graduation with Distinction” program for all students who have at least a B average, or a 3.0, and are involved in at least one of a list of activities including things such as Governor’s School, All-State music events, National Merit Scholars semifinalists, and a 31 or higher composite on the ACT.

BOE President Susan Lodal and Turner also questioned other information from the Department of Education that indicates that four years of Junior ROTC can — with school system approval — replace personal finance, U.S. government and wellness classes.

Turner also said she doesn’t understand why the new program will allow students — with approval from the school — to avoid any foreign language if they do not intend to attend college and want to use the time to take career technical education courses.

Cathey said that option probably won’t be presented to students until at least the end of their sophomore year.

“It is cutting out the rigor we thought was going in,” Turner said.

The BOE also discussed the special education rules that will allow special ed students to meet their mandatory requirement to take four years of high school math by taking algebra Ia their freshman year, algebra Ib their sophomore year, geometry Ia their junior year, and geometry Ib their senior year.

Non-special ed students, including those just not good at math, must take four years of separate math classes. Cathey said non-special ed students could take algebra Ia and Ib but would have to take them the same school year, the first and second half, instead of over two years.

Board members said they feared that could put some non-special education students at risk since Kitzmiller said about 81 non-special ed students have been identified in the eighth grade as having math issues compared to 56 special ed students.

All students must do well enough on end-of-class tests to pass the class.

Cathey explained that the school system would not be penalized for dropouts as long as special ed students pass their four years of math no later than five years and one summer later, although he said students could continue seeking a high school degree in regular school until age 22.

Without the four years of math, the special ed students will receive a certificate instead of a diploma.

Cathey also explained that students must have an elective focus area — taking three credits in selected subject areas above minimum requirements.

For instance, he said a focus in math would require four mandatory courses and three extra courses, and foreign language would require two mandatory courses and three extra ones.

The system is proposing for D-B to have five focus areas: career technical education with three or four courses; science, technology, engineering and math with three; humanities with three; fine arts with three; and any three Advanced Placement courses.

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