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Paynesville Press - March 9, 2005

School district considering policy for transferring credits

By Michael Jacobson

The Paynesville Area School District could be one of the first in the state to have a formal policy for the admission of transfer students and the acceptance of credits.

A proposed policy has been discussed at the last two school board meetings, and the board was expected to take action on it at their meeting on Tuesday, March 8.

The goal of the policy is to allow transfer students - especially homeschooled students - to graduate from PAHS by setting criteria so their course experiences can earn the specific credits for graduation required by school guidelines and state standards. "It is the belief of Independent School District #741 that a strong education is crucial to every student's future," states the introduction to the proposed policy. "Our goal is to welcome students to our school and to work cooperatively with each family to evaluate credit experiences that will lead to the final goal of graduation."

Students who come from any school accredited by the Minnesota Department of Education would be placed in the corresponding grade and any 9-12 credits would transfer to PAHS.

The bulk of the policy deals with students who transfer from a non-accredited school (including home schools). These students will need to be evaluated by administration to determine the proper grade placement: by using any current standardized test results; by looking at home-school curriculum (textbooks, classwork, etc.); and by having a placement conference.

A student must meet all graduation requirements, including the state standards and attendance, to receive a diploma.

The need for the policy came because of increasing transfers to the school district, especially from home schools. More and more, students are coming to high school from a home school, principal John Janotta told the school board, and administration needs a set policy in order to be consistent.

Administration found a few policies from Minnesota to use as models but based much of the proposed policy on one from Arkansas, which has a long tradition of home schools before students enter high school, said Janotta.

The one part of the policy that has been debated extensively at the last two school board meetings is a stipulation that a student must attend full-time for four years at an accredited school to receive a class rank. This mainly would affect home-school students, since most home schools are not accredited.

The staff felt strongly that rank in class was a comparison of students and would not be valid for students who did not earn all their credits from an accredited school, Janotta told the board. "Home schooling" would be entered in the attendance and grade section for home-school students who transfer to PAHS. Home-school students would still earn a grade point average (GPA) from PAHS; they would just be excluded from the class rank.

There has been much discussion about the value of class rank at recent school board meetings. Janotta used the example of a student avoiding a certain teacher and a certain required class by "home schooling," which might help their class rank by avoiding a low grade.

But parent Laura Thompson - who agrees with the overall goal of the proposed policy - has argued that students who attend three and a half years at PAHS deserve to have a class rank. They deserve to be compared to their peers, she told the school board, and lobbied for a looser standard in determining which students to give a class rank.

Maybe rank in class should be determined for student who attend an accredited school for a majority, but not all, of high school, she said.

School board members countered by saying that most colleges do not require class rank. Board member Deb Glenz called 18 colleges and only four used class rank. Colleges would likely consider a scholarship application, from a student without a class rank, if the reason was explained.

But if class rank is so meaningless, said Thompson, why should PAHS rank students at all?

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