Laura Mulligan Thomas conducting the CHS orchestra at TEDx Charlottesville

At the request of Charlottesville High School Principal Jill Dahl, the Charlottesville School Board will consider weighting some arts and other electives that currently do not provide students with the opportunity to earn honors-level credit.

Weighting grades, school officials said, would better reflect the challenge of the classes and remove a disincentive to take some arts courses as electives.  Dahl said the move was in response to parent, student, and teacher feedback.

“Some of our elective classes are quite rigorous and require time outside of school, and some they have to audition for, so it’s not easy,” Dahl said.

The courses under consideration include: orchestra string ensemble, wind ensemble, C-Ville Players III, technical theater III, Charlottesville Singers, commercial photography II, studio art, and economics and personal finance.

Additionally, Dahl said, many gifted students “shy away” from unweighted electives because they don’t contribute as much to grade point averages.

A grade of ‘A’ in an unweighted course earns four quality points under the current system. If adopted, the same grade in a weighted course would earn 4.5 quality points.  

“This is absolutely the right thing to do,” Board member Ned Michie said, echoing Dahl’s message that the lack of weighting has discouraged some students from taking arts classes.  “We think the fine arts are very important in our city and school system, and if we think they’re important we ought to weight them this way.”

School Board member Jennifer McKeever questioned how the state-mandated economics and personal finance course could be made an honors class.

Dahl said that the teacher could differentiate the curriculum, meaning that students would have the option of choosing a more difficult track of assignments within the course.

“If you looked at it from an unleveled perspective,” Dahl said, “around the first nine weeks students could decide if they were going to go the honors route and do a more extensive project or stick with the grade level.”

But School Board member Colette Blount disagreed with this approach.

“We have all of our classes where the teachers could differentiate,” Blount said. “That one doesn’t have necessarily outside, extra, after hours. That is a regular course.”

What’s more, Blount said, is that GPA often receives too much emphasis.

“GPA is not the end all be all, and I know a lot of students basically freak out when it comes to GPA, as do parents,” Blount said. “There can be different ways to go through high school, and it can take a load off of students as well to not be so driven by that grade, that there is much more to school than just that.”

School Board Chair Juandiego Wade agreed, and said weighting the courses would lessen GPA concerns from parents and students.

Dahl said she is also considering adding Advancement Via Individual Determination courses to the list of weighted electives. AVID is an in-school college preparatory program for students who display strong academic potential, but benefit from additional support in order to maintain high levels of achievement.

School Board member Leah Puryear supported including AVID courses.

“I’m appreciative of the fact that you are investigating that for the students who are in that particular program, and I think that would send a very positive message to those groups of students,” Puryear said.

A final decision on all of the courses will be made at a future meeting.