Grading Changes Could Keep Some Students from Getting HOPE Scholarships

October 18, 2012
Dwayne Page
Mark Willoughby
Charles Robinson

Parents counting on a state scholarship to help pay their children's college tuition need to keep a sharp eye on report cards, because some school districts' versions, including DeKalb County, may conflict with what HOPE Scholarship officials actually see. The difference is created by the common practice of giving additional weight — or points — to grades earned in more rigorous honors and Advanced Placement classes. That conflicts with requirements of the state's uniform grading policy, which sticks to a 4.0 scale.

Misunderstandings can occur due to differing GPA scales between school districts and the state. A county's weighted scale allows honors students and AP students to receive extra points for taking more difficult classes. The HOPE Scholarship, funded by the state lottery, awards students with a 3.0 or higher on the uniform scale (4.0) or a 21 or higher on the ACT. The scholarship allows up to $6,000 per year at an eligible four-year postsecondary institution or a two-year eligible postsecondary institution that offers on-campus housing.

The issue was discussed last week during the school board meeting. Board member Charles Robinson brought up the subject, referring to an article he read recently in the Tennessean quoting state officials urging parents across the state to make sure they understand the grading standards in regard to their children qualifying for a Hope Scholarship. "I know that we changed our grading to put more weight to certain dual enrollments and advanced placements but the state of Tennessee goes with a different grading scale compared with what we do now so some of these parents may be caught off guard when you have the state looking at it (recognizing a grading standard) and you have the school providing an inflated grade. As a result some of these kids could be kicked out the Lottery Hope Scholarship program. Dr. Gary Nixon of the State School Board recommended that parents start looking at their children's grades or report cards in the sophomore year. There is another avenue that you can take to get the HOPE scholarship and that the ACT test," said Robinson

"If you're taking an AP class (DeKalb County) and your grade is a 90, you get a 95," said Director of Schools Mark Willoughby. But when you come into the lottery scholarship to qualify, I don't believe they recognize the 95 grade. They recognize the 90," he said. "The reason we're doing this grading standard the way we're doing it now is because AP students are in a much more difficult class than your non AP or non honors class, therefore those students are getting extra points for that. But we do have to make sure everybody knows how the lottery scholarship is going to count that," said Director Willoughby.

Another reason the extra points were added was an incentive for the students to take the higher level classes because we had a low ratio of enrollment in those classes," said Gina Arnold, Supervisor of Special Education. " We also know that when they do take those higher level classes, it does boost their ACT score so by taking the class they are much more likely to have a higher ACT score and qualify for the HOPE scholarship on that basis. So it was a local initiative to get the kids to take the more difficult classes. It wasn't at the expense of them not qualifying for the HOPE scholarship because it would improve their chances of qualifying based on the ACT scores," said Arnold.

Dr. Gary Nixon, Executive Director of Tennessee State Board of Education, in previous published remarks had said, "The differing GPA seems to be causing some confusion, but I am not sure to what degree that it is a problem because there are no facts, but it seems to be more of a local issue rather than a state issue. I would encourage districts to leave no room for misinterpretation," he said.

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