Outside Online Courses: Buying GPA or Filling Needed Gap?

by | Dec 10, 2014

One of the subjects raised during the Dec. 2 School Committee discussion on the East Greenwich High School program of studies for 2015-16 was EGHS’s failure to provide learning opportunities for students who have completed the highest level of courses at the high school.

One parent at the meeting spoke of a few students whose families had paid for an online math course offered by Stanford University at a cost of $800 per semester last year. While EGHS gave the students credit for the course, it did not allow the grade earned to be used in calculating the student’s high school GPA.

“The purpose behind not offering the GPA bump for this,” said Guidance Department head Lyn Hostetler, “is that you have to have the access and equity part in this public school, so that you cannot purchase a GPA.”

But to parent Yaohua Zhang, the Stanford course was not about purchasing a GPA.

“These students are not buying GPA. They take one less course at EGHS to take a much more challenging online course,” said Zhang. “They are risking their GPA.”

EGHS does not offer Calculus BC, the course that would follow Calculus AB. That is why the parents of students Zhang referred to – including his daughter, who has since graduated – decided to pay for the online Stanford course.

According to EGHS Principal Michael Podraza, students who want to take Calculus BC still have options, such as Statistics.

“What’s happened in the past is most of those students who are able to take [Calculus BC] haven’t taken AP Stats yet, or haven’t taken Stats yet, [so] we would have a course they could take,” Podraza said after the meeting Dec. 2.

Zhang, however, disputes that the EGHS statistics course is relevant for the students he’s referring, saying it is not a high-level course.

“My child and other students didn’t have any other math courses to take in sequence at that time. The only other option was to be waived out of math courses for the following two years. This is like sports player stopping practice for two years,” said Zhang.

According to Zhang, when a parent suggested students could take AP Calculus BC through independent study North Kingstown High School, they were told the district was not ready. The district, said Zhang, also declined to allow students to take a course at URI or another college, but encouraged enrolling in the gifted program at Stanford.

Supt. Victor Mercurio said the district attempts to offer a variety of courses.

“We constantly look at courses across the continuum of student needs and ability levels.  Where possible, we offer those courses to interested students. In brief, if there’s enough student interest, we try to run the course,” he said this week.

“A district has to offer appropriate course work for all students,” said Rhode Island Dept. of Education spokesman Elliot Krieger. “There are many ways a district can meet the requirements of the BEP and online learning is certainly one way.”

Other ways include allowing students to take courses at nearby colleges or universities, said Krieger, or partnering with other high schools. But, he said, “those are local decisions.”

Mercurio said the district is looking into Virtual High School, a way to offer students much greater course diversity at EGHS. But it would require EGHS to be able to offer a virtual course too, he said, which will entail contributing a teacher to that effort.

It’s not impossible, he said, but the district hasn’t yet worked out the details.

Zhang said the issue of GPA credit comes down to fairness.

“When a student takes a more challenging course, the student should be recognized equally versus being penalized,” he said.

One other element here is that certain courses carry more GPA “weight” – honors and AP courses. Students can take certain courses for the GPA “bump” they give.

As Principal Podraza explained Dec. 2, “I’m with my peers, taking pre-calculus or honors precalc. I’m now getting a GPA bump for taking honors precalculus where this other student is ready to take Calculus BC and might have to take a course that does not have honors designation” because Calculus BC is not offered.

Zhang said GPA matters because a student’s class ranking (which is based on GPA) is an important component in the college admission process even if the college takes outside course work into consideration.

“If a student is not in the top 5 percent of the graduating class, the chance of being admitted to a highly selective college is very low,” said Zhang.

At the School Committee meeting Dec. 2, Guidance’s Hostetler said colleges look at more than just a student’s school GPA, taking into account a variety of factors.

“I would find it hard to believe that a college wouldn’t look at that Stanford course grade as well,” she said.

For EG school administrators, the GPA question comes down to equity, even if the district is not able to offer the courses in question.

“When you collect all of those credits, no matter how rigorous or prestigious the program may be, there’s an equity issue there,” Mercurio said. “You can’t add credits by your choosing and having them go into your GPA. At the end of the day, an East Greenwich diploma has to mean something as it relates to attending high school in East Greenwich.”

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Heather Larkin
Heather Larkin
December 11, 2014 9:00 am

Mr. Zhang’s daughter already graduated, do you know where she went to college? I am curious if her GPA did ‘hurt’ her or she ended up where she hoped she would.

Yaohua Zhang
Yaohua Zhang
December 11, 2014 9:22 am

Larkin, She didn’t go to the college she wanted to go. That will also open a different can of worm with EGHS. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I don’t want to discuss here.

Heather Larkin
Heather Larkin
December 11, 2014 10:21 am
Reply to  Yaohua Zhang

Ok. Thanks for the answer.

Yaohua Zhang
Yaohua Zhang
December 11, 2014 9:26 am

I can’t agree with EGHS’s response about “What’s happened in the past is most of those students who are able to take [Calculus BC] haven’t taken AP Stats yet”. EGHS did not allow students to select AP Statistics. Students were told that there was no certified AP Statistics teacher.

December 12, 2014 7:23 am

I would be interested in knowing how EG High is handling this compared to the other top schools in RI, Massachusetts, and New York. After all our students will not only be competing against the students in their own student body but those across the country and around the world.

December 12, 2014 3:26 pm
Reply to  BL

We are waiting Mr. Podraza to turn in his homework. “It’s time to compare East Greenwich not just to Barrington, R.I., but to Barrington, IL, and Barrington, CA,” Podraza said. “We’re going to stay number 1 in Rhode Island, but also measure ourselves against the very best nationally.” – East Greenwich Patch, April 27, 2011.

December 12, 2014 5:52 pm
Reply to  Parent

I think Pedraza has probably done his “homework” the man works extensively at researching and delivering news on education on his off time. I am not sure he is the one that should be answering for this however. Theses answers should come easy when posed to the body that is approving policy changes. The school board needs to be asking for this information from the Superintendent. I believe when he(the Superintendent) asked the committee on last Tuesday’s meeting what he needed to get for them so they could make a better decision he was told nothing. While those questions may not have been there at the time because of a lack of proper review of the policy beforehand. There should be an expectation that it be questioned at the next discussion of such matters.

A parent
A parent
December 13, 2014 7:44 am
Reply to  BL

Lincoln school district and many school districts give GPA credit to online courses. All FL schools give GPA credit (FL Digital Learning Act).


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