Latest on the Madison School District’s Policy Change Regarding Credit for Non-MMSD Courses

Here is the official wording of the new MMSD policy regarding students taking non-MMSD courses. 78K PDF. See my earlier post on this unpublished change:

A. Taking outside courses (other than Youth Options) if a student wishes to receive credit toward graduation.

  1. The course must be pre-approved by the principal.
  2. The course may only be an elective.
  3. A student may only receive elective credit toward graduation provided the District does not offer a comparable course, if a student receives credit it will be reflected as pass/fail.
  4. Elective credits toward graduation shall be granted in the following manner:

    No more than 1 elective credit per year. No more than 1 elective credit in the same subject. more than 2 elective credits may be applied to the total graduation requirement.

  5. The student’s transcript shall only include a description of the course, the institution, if any, the date the course was completed, the credit, if any, and the pass/fail grade.
  6. No grades will be included as part of a student’s GPA.
  7. All costs related to taking the course shall be the responsibility of the guardian of the student or student.

B. Taking outside courses if a student does not wish to receive credit.

  1. The course must be pre-approved by the principal.
  2. The course may only be an elective.
  3. The student’s transcript may only include a description of the course, the institution, if any, the date the course was completed, and the pass/fail grade unless the student or his/her parent/guardian request that the student’s grade appear on the transcript in which case the student ’s grade will appear on the transcript.
  4. No grades shall be included as part of a student’s GPA.
  5. All costs related to taking the course shall be the responsibility of the parent of the student or student.

10 thoughts on “Latest on the Madison School District’s Policy Change Regarding Credit for Non-MMSD Courses”

  1. Sounds like a policy written to discourage students from taking courses outside of the MMSD.
    Did the school board ever consider and approve this policy?

  2. I believe the Board must explicitly set policy on all matters regarding the receiving of graduation credit. Too many issues are outstanding and subject to whim or just illogic, such as courses being offered in the District but in practice unavailable (course not offered in semester needed, or at distance HS). The Board has not done so.
    A number of Board policy statements apply.
    3310 (Credit for UW Extension)
    3540 (Graduation Requirements)
    3541 (Middle School Student taking High School course)
    3545 (Indepdent Study programs)
    3547 (Credit for UW Courses) (but statutes do not restrict to UW)
    The Board policies are obviously incomplete, and in some cases illegal (such as focusing on UW and not including MATC, for example).
    With regard to Janet’s recitation of the policy, is this language the direct language of the official policy or a letter or a summary of some informal communication with District personnel?
    The limitation to only elective courses, and the limitation of credits seem unduly restrictive. Besides kids needing advanced work, kids who need additional credits for graduation (for example, they failed some elective/non-elective courses) might benefit from a more liberal policy. Or say, for various reasons, say illness or lack of preparation, the student would want to take courses which, though they passed, they want another opportunity to improve their knowledge.
    I don’t necessarily disagree with the policy statement of giving only pass/fail, if that is an issue for some. A student’s transcript can/should be augmented with the transcript from institution offering the non-MMSD course. Perhaps the policy needs to be that the non-MMSD institution transcript shall be sent to MMSD and become of the student’s official MMSD transcript.

  3. Janet, where did you get the written policy?
    So does this suggest that MMSD will refuse high school diplomas for its most advanced students? The ones who, for example, are already past Calculus and high-school level science when they start high school? If I’m interpreting the policy correctly, I’d say it’s a good thing – then the MMSD won’t be able to take credit for some of these kids…

  4. Seriously, what is the thinking behind this policy? Were there specific students who used non-MMSD courses for graduation credit and the district later realized that the courses were of lower quality than the required high school courses? Someone at MMSD really needs to explain this further because the examples that come to my mind are all of kids who have taken lots of UW courses, which I doubt MMSD can claim are inferior to their high school courses.
    A couple of points here:
    (1) It doesn’t take much to get a MMSD high school diploma. Most students at West could easily graduate after 3 or 3-1/2 years if they wanted to. One needs 22 credits to graduate, and if you take a full load of 7 courses per semester, that’s 21 right there. Just double up on English in two semesters to fulfill the 4 years of English required.
    (2) West High’s website states: “At some point in time, Wisconsin state law may mandate that high school students comply with the following additional requirements for graduation:
    – Earn a 1.67 or higher cumulative Grade Point Average (GPA) in each of the academic content areas (English, Mathematics, Science and Social Studies) in any 2 credits earned in courses aligned with the 12th Grade Wisconsin Model Academic Standards.
    – If a student has met the credit requirements for graduation but does not have a 1.67 GPA in each of the four content areas, the student must pass the Wisconsin High School Graduation Test (HSG) in each content area in which the GPA is less than 1.67.” That doesn’t sound like a very high standard.
    (3) Most colleges will admit advanced students without a high school diploma – if they are already taking college-level courses, what does Harvard or MIT care about a MMSD diploma? For the advanced students, denial of a high school diploma will mainly hurt them socially (not getting to go to graduation with their friends), and otherwise will hurt the school district’s statistics more than it will hurt the kids themselves. So why does the district want to shoot itself in the foot and continue to harrass some of its most motivated students?

  5. This is the MMSD’s official wording of their new policy regarding credit for non-MMSD courses. It was written by Pam Nash a few weeks ago (early October, 2006?) and distributed to the chairs of the guidance departments of the high schools.
    Points of interest:
    1. This new policy was already being enforced for this fall semester even before it had been put into writing, with no grandfathering of students who had already developed their course schedules for this year based upon last year’s policy.
    2. As of a few days ago, BOE members had still not been officially informed of the existence of this new policy. A BOE member had to request a copy of it from Pam Nash so she could compare the MMSD’s official one with the one I had received from the guidance department at West HS. They were the same, the one posted here.
    3. Thus, this new policy is being enforced already with neither the BOE having approved it nor there having been an opportunity for public comment.
    4. As of a few days ago, this new policy had also yet to be distributed to TAG coordinators.
    5. This new policy will result in numerous students failing to graduate from the MMSD because it does not permit students to take any non-MMSD courses to fulfill core course requirements:
    a. Many of the MMSD’s TAG students in the future will matriculate to top colleges without obtaining a high school diploma. Yes, the elite colleges really don’t care; they rather admit students who accelerated through high school courses (regardless of whether their high school gave them credit) and went on to ace college-level ones. Neither of my two National Merit children would qualify for a diploma from the MMSD if this new policy had been in effect in the past.
    b. More importantly, it will severely hurt a variety of alternative learners, including temporarily ill ones and some who attend Shabazz HS, who flunk several core high school courses and then desperately need to make up core course credits through mechanisms such as correspondence courses where they can learn the material at their own pace in their own way.
    6. The District is claiming they were forced into making this change in policy for MTI contractual reasons. However, the latest MTI contract has no wording relating to this matter. Also, the latest MTI 2-year contract was written for July, 2005 – June, 2007. Thus, this new course policy should have been written during the summer of 2005, not 2006, if it were being done solely to satisfy an agreement with MTI.
    Thus, it is my guess that this policy is, in reality, a mechanism by which Rainwater is trying to force all students into heterogeneously grouped, mainstreamed “one-size-fits-all” courses by eliminating any other mechanism by which students might fulfill core course requirements for a diploma from the MMSD. Instead, this new policy will likely drive more families out of the MMSD. What happened to “Success for All”?
    I’m hoping to raise this issue at Monday’s BOE Meeting which will be occurring at West HS (NOT Doyle) immediately after the National Merit Semi-Finalist Awards Ceremony. Please join me.
    Janet Mertz

  6. That policy was implemented without public comment and BOE approval seems illegal to me. But, this is likely just bad habits on the part of the administration, when the BOE was a rubber stamp. (Are there enough votes on the Board now define it otherwise?).
    And the MTI contractual reason is suspicious. It would be a stretch to suggest such a policy is bargainable under the WI statutes.
    That this language is the “official” language surprises me — which is why I asked the question in a previous post. Being a stickler for consistent language in official documents, I noticed that A.7 and B.5 should logically be the same language, and that the language of B.3 (allowing the grade to be made part of the transcript) is missing in A.5.
    Seems that this official document was just thrown together without editing or thought — just to make some arbitrary decision look official and legally binding.

  7. Janet,
    I’m unclear from your post – is this a) an official MMSD School Board policy or b) an updated administrative procedure for an existing School Board policy, in particular #3547?
    If the document posted is an official School Board policy is this an amendment to an existing School Board policy (was the policy number referenced in the document) or is this a new School Board policy? In either case, I don’t remember seeing draft documents circulated for School Board review, discussion, re-drafting and approval.
    I think it’s more likely this is a procedure for a School Board policy – would that be Policy 3547 – Credit and Tuition for UW courses. Note: that policy is not restricted to elective courses. Policy 3547 says MMSD will pay for a course “…if the course the pupil is attending at the University is not offered in the District and the pupil will receive high school credit for the course.” The same policy also says “It is the POLICY of the BOARD to give credit to students when a determination is made by the District that the courses offered in the District are not sufficient to meet the needs of the student.”
    The policy, however, says nothing about whether a student can reasonably get to a class at another high school vs. the UW. I would hope that the administration would recognize the difficulty this could pose and work with parents/students for solutions that best meet a student’s needs.
    The District’s procedure seems to be somewhat narrower than the School Board policy (or even the Youth Options, I believe) by limiting MMSD approval to elective classes. Or, MMSD administration has determined that students must take “x” classes taught by MMSD and that these classes will meet the needs of all students. How is that determined?
    Janet, you’ve indicated that you spent time with MMSD personnel on this matter, and the posted document is the administration’s response. After you and others speak Monday night, the School Board could help Madison parents of high school students tomorrow night by clarifying their policy on this subject as well as their expectation of process when a School Board approved Policy or Policy Procedure is amended. Also, the School Board could ask for an explanation of how this was done for this situation.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  8. I was unable to attend the public comment session at last Monday’s open BOE meeting because it was held at 5 pm, before rather than after the National Merit Semi-finalists Ceremonies. As best I can tell from the feedback I received about the meeting is that Rainwater deems this new policy to merely be an updated administrative procedure to a pre-existing one, no. 3545, and, thus, not a new policy in need of BOE approval.
    Policy 3545 solely concerns high school students engaging in independent study. The wording of the above-stated new policy mimics in many sections the wording of the District’s independent study policy, with its credit restrictions, grades being pass/fail, etc. Thus, Rainwater is attempting to bypass the requirement for public comment and BOE approval by now defining ALL non-MMSD courses other than ones approved under the YOP to be independent study ones! The new policy is exactly what I posted above, i.e., it does not reference Board policy no. 3545. To the best of my knowledge, “independent study” courses are ones in which a student performs or learns ON HIS/HER OWN with the help of a teacher a pre-approved project or set of material. I don’t understand how students taking formal courses at UW, MATC, by correspondence, or online through a university can be defined as falling under the rubric of “independent study” since these students are not largely working on their own, especially in the case of UW and MATC courses.
    In addition, West HS’s Student Handbook 2004-2005 states on page 49, section 5c:
    “Students enrolling in special/guest student courses at the U.W. for high school credit (non-youth options) must complete a declaration form before the start of the course. This allows a grade to be listed on the transcript with the grade included in the student’s GPA. Students planning on using university course work (non-youth options) to replace REQUIRED high school graduation credit must receive written approval from the appropriate high school department chairperson prior to enrolling in the course(s).”
    This older policy is VERY different from the new one written last month with respect to several crucial aspects including (i) whether the courses can be used to fulfill core course requirements for graduation, (ii) the total number of credits one can earn, and (iii) whether the grade in the course can be included in one’s GPA and on one’s transcript.

  9. From School Board Policy No. 1301 – Proposed Policies: POLICY PROCEDURE shall be considered a necessary adjunct to BOARD POLICY, shall be cross-referenced to POLICY, and shall be changed, modified, or otherwise altered in the same manner that POLICY may be changed, modified, or altered.
    To me this means that any change in a policy procedure requires School Board approval, which would take place prior to implementation.
    It would seem to me that if the processes in the board policies were followed, less time all around would be spent on this topic. This is clearly not one westside parent complaining, as some have implied (not necessarily here). Rather, this is the essence of the School Board’s responsibility – the approval of policies that govern the operation of the schools and the procedures for the board’s policies.
    Until appropriate approval is made in response to a change, wouldn’t one expect the existing policies and existing administration of those policies should rule and that is what the Superintendent would be responsible for administering. “The administration of POLICY shall be the duty of the SUPERINTENDENT” (Policy 1301).
    Also, it appears to me that the district’s administrative procedure is an update of the policy procedure in policy 3545. Or, is there another source for documents on administrative procedures for policy procedures? How are parents or other members of the public to access these documents for their information – wouldn’t these administrative procedures follow board policies and procedures?
    I’m commenting without being at the meeting, so I may be all wet. These are my thoughts based upon what I’ve read in this thread and heard through off-line conversations on the topic.
    Lastly, if indeed this is about independent study, then it would seem to me that a UW course that meets specific dates and times would not meet the definition of independent study anyway. This seems like a lot of going in circles, and must be frustrating for parents who have seen a procedure change from one year to the next without any apparent overall change driving what’s being done and staff unclear on the reasoning.

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