School credit policies are stricter at other districts

Making sure that children have the best possible education is a major goal for parents. Enrolling their children in the right district, with the right teachers and worrying about whether the district is good enough is a stress every parent deals with. For many who seek specific help for their child in a certain subject, the option of using a private school for a class can be appealing.

According to Washington state law, students have the option of gaining high school credit for a class outside their home institution, and their regular school must accept that credit, as long as it is obtained from an accredited high school or private school. How those credits are recorded on a student’s transcript is completely up to the student’s home institution.

The Mercer Island School District has had such a policy on the books since September of 2006. This school year, the district reviewed the policy with the intention of upgrading it to fit the current school climate.

The new proposed policy was met with questions and tension from some parents in the district because of the change which takes the off-campus course grades out of any individual student’s GPA and transcript.

The updated policy, under review by Superintendent Gary Plano, still requires students to get approval to take the course, but now a student only needs approval from the principal. Students must also have a syllabus with a list of textbooks required for the class that they plan to take off campus. The second major change to the policy is the number of courses for which students can earn credits. Previously, students were only able to earn credit for four classes, or eight semesters, taken off campus. Under the new policy there is no limit.

The School Board has said it supports the new policy, but the final decision rests with the superintendent.

John Harrison, the principal at Mercer Island High School, said recently at a School Board meeting it is hard for districts to include grades from outside courses because the district may evaluate on a different standard than those other institutions. Students who attend a private school for a specific class often get more individualized attention, making it more likely the student’s grade will be high and therefore, in some views, inflate the overall GPA.

The MISD plan, should the policy be accepted, would allow for outside credits to be indicated on transcripts with a special code, denoting that the class was taken at a different institution. Attached to the transcript would be a list of classes and grades from the other schools.

Harrison said an overwhelming percentage of the classes taken off campus by students at the high school is in math.

Students have a variety of options where to take those off-campus courses. Many students choose to take classes at the Island’s Privett Academy or ETC Preparatory Academy.

Privett Academy currently has 10 full-time students and 152 students enrolled overall at the K-12 private school, with approximately 95 percent of its students taking at least one class, most of which are math courses, according to Director Carol Meyer.

At ETC, Executive Director Meredith Atkins said the academy has 65 students who are taking credit courses, meaning that some of those students are full-time and others are taking anywhere from one to six classes. She said about half of the 65 students are from Mercer Island. Forty-three of the 65 students are taking math classes, 33 are taking foreign language and 29 are enrolled in an English course. The rest of the classes that the 65 are enrolled in are a variety of social studies, science, health and P.E., electives and occupational education classes.

Off the Island, other districts in the area have similar policies to deal with the issue of off-campus classes, varying in the number allowed and requirements to be met. At both the Bellevue and Issaquah School Districts, students have the option of taking classes off campus for credit at accredited high schools or private institutions, per Washington state law.

In Bellevue, students must also be enrolled in a full schedule at their home school. Due to this requirement, students are not allowed to shorten their schedule or drop a class to take a course outside of the school. In Bellevue, all requests for classes off campus must be approved by a designated staff member and the assistant superintendent before the student begins the class. In Bellevue, there is no limit to the number of courses that students can take off campus. During the last school year, there were 104 requests to take classes off campus, according to the Bellevue School District Office of Student Services. Sixty-five of those requests were approved and 39 were denied.

In the Issaquah School District students can take up to two credits, or four semesters, of classes outside the school for credit, as long as the class meets the requirements for graduation and/or a minimum college admission requirements. Students in Issaquah must get written approval prior to starting the class from the student’s counselor and principal.

All grades from these types of courses are either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, per Issaquah School District guidelines. Approval is not given to students after the fact, and if approved, the course must be finished in the timeline set up with the counselor. Once a class is finished, the student must give official verification of completion to the counseling office within two weeks.

It is expected that Plano will make a decision on whether or not to implement the proposed MISD credit policy within the next two weeks.

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