Are some Georgia dual enrollment classes making it too easy to earn an A?

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

The state encourages high school students to take college courses through Georgia's Move on When Ready dual enrollment program.

Some high school students have long contended dual enrollment college courses are easier than their school's AP or IB classes. The AJC's Will Robinson looked into a report that MOWR classes at a few local high schools awarded an inordinate number of A grades. We are talking all 27 or 28 kids in the class earning an A.

Robinson joined the AJC as an education intern in 2017. He graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in journalism and international affairs. While at UGA, he published two investigative pieces in the AJC about the university’s mishandling of hazardous waste. He was a McGill Fellow and Cox/Society of American Business Editors and Writers Fellow his senior year.

Here is Robinson's column on what he discovered when he delved into MOWR grading:

By Will Robinson

The Move On When Ready program allows high school students to earn college credit without paying for tuition, fees or textbooks. It is a tremendous opportunity for students to experience college-level courses, shorten the time and expense of earning a degree and distinguish themselves in college applications. But grades from some MOWR classes call into question the quality of the instruction they receive.

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

Last fall, eight high schools opened their doors to Georgia State University professors for MOWR courses. In three of these schools, more than 95 percent of students taking College English got an A, and some entire classes received As.

  • Central Gwinnett High School: 96 percent
  • Roswell High School: 95 percent
  • Johns Creek High School: 96 percent

Across all eight high schools, only 59 percent got As, and just 38 percent of college students at GSU did. At Centennial High School, located within 10 miles of Roswell and Johns Creek, only 25 percent of students earned the top grade. Ken Johnson, the English department chair at GSU’s Alpharetta campus, said the grades are not a cause for alarm.

“The grades in the MOWR sections at the high schools are typically high because the students enrolled in those classes are among the best at their high schools,” he said by email. He noted high school students who take MOWR at college campuses are often among the top grade getters there as well.

However, this discrepancy cannot be fully explained by student aptitude. Of the eight schools, Central Gwinnett has the lowest CCRPI, the state’s measurement of school performance, yet it has the second highest percentage of As. Milton and Cambridge high schools scored higher on the state’s academic index than Roswell but have much lower A ratios.

A factor that could be at play is the work status of the professors. Most of the MOWR instructors who teach at high schools are part-time employees. They may, therefore, believe their employment is dependent on high schoolers signing up for their classes. Rubber-stamping As would be a quick way to draw them.

However, not all of the part-time English instructors are easy graders. Furthermore, part-time instructors in other MOWR subjects like College Algebra give few As. They have as much to lose if high schoolers stop opting for college rigor.

GSU released data on MOWR grades (without identifying students) for the first time last semester, so it is too early to call this a trend. Perhaps, a grade of A may be harder to come by in the second semester of College English. Furthermore, most students take MOWR classes at college campuses or online, so the high schools that offer them on their own campuses are the exception, not the norm.

Nonetheless, when three high school classes get all As in classes designed for college students, it raises questions. Why is it that a MOWR English student would have a 96 percent chance of getting an A at Johns Creek but a 25 percent chance of the same fate down the road at Centennial?

GSU must ensure that college courses mean college difficulty. If MOWR aims to provide high school students with a college education, it needs to grade like it.