Holt High School counts music classes the same as math classes in GPA

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By Caleb Nordgren
Holt Journal staff writer

It’s 11:20 on a Friday at Holt High School. Senior Evan Edwards makes his way to band class. The future MSU music student is, among other things, getting ready to hear the band play “Abyss,” a song he wrote himself and used as part of his application portfolio. The band will perform “Abyss” at their next concert in May.

Edwards and his classmates obviously will receive a grade in their band class. However, unlike some other high schools across the country, that grade, whether high or low, will impact each student’s GPA this semester. That is, Edwards’ band grade counts just as much in his GPA as a grade in calculus or history.

Dean Manikas, director of curriculum for the Holt School District, wrote in an email that all courses taken at Holt High School count toward a student’s GPA, although there is a separate system in place for honors consideration.

There has long been debate amongst educators about the wisdom and efficacy of including music classes, such as band, in GPA calculations. In general, the argument against their inclusion is that they don’t require work on the same scale as a history or math class. Proponents of inclusion counter that serious music student puts in a significant amount of work for a band class, and should be rewarded for his or her efforts.

Holt high school counselor Bob Bower said having band and other fine arts classes included in GPA helps students when it’s time to apply for college.

“Fine arts classes would only enhance their candidacy,” Bower said.

Holt Director of Bands Michael Emerson said band classes get an unfair reputation as easy classes.

“I know that we get a stigma as music teachers or possibly music classes, whether right or wrong, of inflating GPA,” Emerson said. “Because ‘how can you fail your band class?’”

However, Emerson said that in his classes, those who don’t put in significant effort have and will receive low grades and their GPA will suffer. In addition to three or four written assignments per semester, students must complete periodic playing tests, which are graded, and receive a daily participation grade, Emerson said.

Senior Rebecca Howe said she spends an hour to an hour and a half practicing outside of class most days, so she feels band students should get credit for their work in their GPA.

“We put in the work and we should get counted for it,” Howe said. “This is legit.”

Assistant Principal Ann Coe said the belief of the high school’s administration is that every class offered is a class worth receiving credit for.

“We truly believe that it is an academic class,” Coe said. “Using that part of your brain enhances your learning experience.”

Coe said there have never been serious discussions about removing band from GPA calculation, although it was suggested once that band be made an extracurricular activity. But that suggestion was never acted on and has not been revisited, she said.

The system is not perfect, of course. Edwards said he didn’t necessarily like or dislike having band counted in his GPA, but he worried that band is perceived by some students as an easy A and it’s hard to fix that.

“There’s really not much criteria for measuring grades, so pretty much whoever takes it, as long as they do what they’re supposed to most of the time they get an A,” he said. “So a lot of kids take it just to get out of another class.”

Edwards admitted there isn’t a lot that can be done to fix the issue. He said the system is being abused, somewhat, but that it wasn’t on a large scale. He suggested more graded playing tests could help, but said the main thing was emphasizing participation more.

Bower said he thinks grades are inherently arbitrary, regardless of the class, so there’s no problem with including music grades in GPA.

Emerson said judging effort and musical ability is subjective by its nature, which makes quantifying it in a grade hard to do. But he said he likes to give credit for effort when he sees it.

“I like to reward effort in the classroom based on their participation and trying in class,” he said.

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