Plano ISD trustees have delayed a decision on a policy change that could strip the honors designation for some fine arts courses starting with students graduating in 2023 and beyond as the district re-evaluates its class-rank criteria.
Trustees heard at their Feb. 5 meeting from multiple speakers who voiced concerns about the weighting of future high school courses for this year’s eighth-graders. Some of the fine arts courses that could be affected by the policy revision include orchestra and band.
The board ultimately voted to table the policy revision until its April 9 board meeting.
The revision comes as part of the district’s broader new class ranking practice, which trustees approved in June.
The district will report a cumulative GPA to be published on all students’ transcripts and a separate ranking GPA used solely to determine the top 10 percent of the district’s junior and senior classes.
In PISD’s system, GPA is calculated on a 5-point scale with higher scores for the more challenging coursework, such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and honors classes.
“I think the intent in trying to take away some honors classes in the district was to really have the kids focus on their core classes that were a part of the ranking GPA, and then them not be penalized with their GPA based on whatever elective classes they chose, fine arts happening to be one of those,” said Jeremy Kondrat, the PISD instrumental music coordinator. “As a band director I share that fear, so I think that whatever step we are to take, I think we need to make sure we are handling it with care.”
The ranking GPA will factor grades from English, mathematics, science and social studies courses.
Under the new class ranking practice, a course must meet the criteria of one of four qualifying categories established by the district in order to receive honors weighting.
One of these requirements is that non-honors students and honors students must be taught in separate classes, which some of the music courses are unable to meet.
“The way that students currently receive honors credit for courses like band or orchestra is based on the student taking on extra academic work, such as writing a paper or conducting research,” Katrina Hasley, the PISD assistant superintendent for academic services, said in a statement.
The change in policy will not affect students graduating before 2023, board President Missy Bender said. The fine arts honors courses trustees discussed during their meeting are only open for enrollment to 11th- and 12th-grade students.
“The subcommittee that put together the guiding principles for GPA [did] not [want] to disadvantage children who were pursuing passions,” trustee Tammy Richards said. “Those were very important guiding principles. And this is a scenario where we make the rules.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated from its original version to include more quotes from Plano ISD district staff, as well as more background information on the district's class ranking practice.