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Livingston Board of Education Discusses Concerns About Measuring GPA

Jeremiah Lim

Wednesday, September 18, 2013 • 10:07am

LIVINGSTON, NJ - The Livingston Board of Education convened Monday to address student and parent concerns regarding the revised calculation of grade point average (GPA) and the presentation of grades on the transcripts of Livingston High School (LHS) students. The class of 2014 will be the first class to graduate with the revised standards.

Principal Mark Stern and Director of Guidance Tina Renga gave a presentation to the board and the assembled audience detailing the relevant changes.

The revised transcript will now display two GPA scores: one score for grades achieved in the cumulative weighted core curriculum (English, Math, Social Studies, World Languages, etc.) and another cumulative score for all courses, including electives. Elective courses outside of the core will no longer be assigned Honors weight.

"It allows our students to put their best selves forward... this gives more of a total picture of our students," Stern said.

Both Stern and Renga emphasized that LHS will take all proper steps to effectively communicate the changes with prospective colleges.

"We want to make sure the information is disseminated properly to all parties - students, parents and readers,' Renga said.

To that end, the revised grading scale and GPA calculation criteria will be included on every document or piece of literature forwarded to colleges. A bar at the top of page one of each transcript (highlighted in green) will direct readers to page two of the transcript, which will contain an in-depth breakdown of the new information.

In addition, the LHS school profile will be revised to reflect the updated standards and a letter will be sent to prospective colleges explaining the method and rationale behind the adjustment. The letter will also be posted to the Naviance system on the District's website for viewing by parents and students.

"In a nutshell, this profile officially translates our transcript into terms college admissions officers can use to compare student records to those submitted by other hopefuls across the country," Renga said. "Our job as guidance counselors is to make sure our school is seen as compelling and competitive."

Several board members raised concerns regarding the presentation of the revised transcript. Both Pamela Chirls and Leslie Winograd noted that the lack of a year-end GPA score for each individual scholastic year could potentially confuse readers. The revised transcript will only include a year-by-year breakdown of each class grade with the two aforementioned GPA scores representing a student's sum score for his or her freshman, sophomore and junior years.

"Most of these admissions counselors look at hundreds of these applications, if not thousands," Winograd said. A snapshot, year-by-year update of a student's progress could help an admissions officer visualize that student's growth in an easy, comprehensive manner.

Many members of the LHS class of 2014 were also present to voice their concerns. LHS senior Jay Schaefer questioned the decision to changing weight level given to various elective courses.

"We have AP elective courses that are no longer being offered as AP courses; we have Honors electives that are no longer being offered as Honors courses. I have friends who will tell you that they were in the same electives where seniors [of the class of 2013] received Honors credit and we did not," he said. He argued that the transcript, as presented, does not convey the true rigor of specific courses.

Schaefer also proposed that a chart or graphic directly comparing the previous GPA formula and weight scale with the new version should be included with the transcript to give admissions officers a clearer picture of the change. He noted that any potential readers might not have a frame of reference to LHS's specific requirements and might even assume the newer scores are inflated.

Fellow LHS senior Matthew Levy echoed Schaefer's suggestion to create a point of comparison between the class of 2014 and previous classes, noting that all students in his class could potentially be damaged by compressed GPAs.

"Everyone's GPA looks lower. We need our transcript to reflect that."

Levy also implored the Board to act with expediency in enacting any changes to the transcript.

"We are applying to colleges right now. I have friends who have already applied to college. My admission deadline is coming up within the next month... there is no time for a committee to address this. Action needs to be taken by the next week at the latest."

Multiple students and parents echoed this sentiment. Several pointed out that students who have already applied to colleges with a rolling admissions process could potentially be disadvantaged by not having a LHS transcript on file (colleges do not begin evaluating potential students until all parts of the application have been received).

Superintendent Dr. John Alfier explained that LHS is making this change in an attempt to align more closely with peer schools, noting that some admissions officers viewed LHS scores as slightly inflated. He vowed to address the concerns raised in a prompt and timely manner, noting that the Board and the guidance deparment will begin to revise the transcript as the first order of business Tuesday morning.

[Students and parents] can be certain that by the end of the day on Friday, this will be done."

Consolidated Monitoring Report

Alfieri also addressed the consolidated monitoring report which concerns programs that use federal funding. Such programs are subject to random audit by the Department of Education. An on-site visit conducted by the DOE, including documentation reviews and staff interviews, resulted in citations to several of the District's federally funded educational programs.

Programs under review included Title I (free and reduced lunch funding), Title II (overall staff development), Title III (English Language Learners), the Race to the Top initiative, IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and overall administration (minutes, purchasing, payroll, etc.). Common areas cited as needing improvement included documentation of activities,meeting notices, following proper timelines, compliance with program-specific rules and the like. Federal auditors also found that while ELL instructors were given developmental aid, they were not receiving the instruction from the proper providers. The District received 23 citations overall.

All findings and a Corrective Action Plan will be made available on the District's website. Once approved, the CAP will be submitted to the New Jersey Department of Education. Alfieri emphasized transparency and efficiency in dealing with the problems.

"We will address these issues head on and we will not waste a moment defending that which is indefensible," he said.

Honors

Alfieri commended the 12 LHS seniors named as semifinalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. Should the students become finalists, they will become eligible for 8,000 national scholarships.

The students are: Grace An, Michelle H. Bao, Lev M. Botea, Nitay Caspi, Helen H. Chen, Kevin M. Kwok, Daniel E. Laveman, Brian Lee, Matthew E. Levey, Crystal S. Song, Gregory H. Vuong, and Grant W. Wu.

District teacher Dorian Gemellaro was commended for conducting a study that will appear in the American Association of School Administrators Journal of Scholarship and Practice. Her study concerned the relationship between school environment and standardized test scores.

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