Once HOPE scholarship eligibility becomes harder, some high school students say, they might avoid taking harder courses.
"I don't think I'll do too many honors classes," said Ashley Thomas, a 17-year-old junior at Augusta Christian Schools.
"I want to keep my grades where they are. If I don't do too good in a class, I don't want it to bring my (grade point average) down."
Ashley plans to attend Augusta State University after graduation, but she's concerned about how to pay for college if she doesn't qualify for HOPE.
Beginning May 2007, the minimum standard for a HOPE scholarship switches from an 80 average to a 3.0 GPA. Ashley's 84 average gives her a 3.0 GPA.
"I'm kind of worried about it," she admitted.
Lincoln County schools Superintendent Randall Edmunds worries Ashley's reluctance to take more rigorous course work, such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, will resonate with his students as well.
"That's always a concern when you say you're going to count everything the same," Dr. Edmunds said.
When the grade switch is made, state law will require school systems to send electronic transcripts of students' grades to the Georgia Student Finance Commission, which doles out HOPE scholarships. The law, adopted last year, also prohibits area systems from weighting AP and IB grades, which many do.
"Teachers have always thought that more credit should be given to students willing to take the harder courses," Dr. Edmunds said.
However, finance commission communications specialist Wagers Chenault said the commission will weight the grades after the law goes into effect.
There are two categories of grades that will be weighted: Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate courses, he said.
"We are not going to weight grades for other types of things, such as honors courses," Mr. Chenault said.
Students completing an AP or IB class will get a 0.5 boost to their average up to 4.0, the highest mark on the GPA scale, Mr. Chenault said.
"At least they're recognizing that it takes more effort on a student's part to make a good grade in AP classes than it does for a regular class," Dr. Edmunds said.
The boost, Ashley said, might entice her to take an AP course, but still she is unsure.
Some school officials say that, with or without the boost, most students currently enrolled in an AP or IB program won't be frightened away by the HOPE changes.
"The main reason they took those courses was not because there was a weighting to it," said Rose Carraway, the director of high-school student learning for the Columbia County school system. "It was because they wanted it to prepare for college and it looks great on a transcript."
A committee of mostly high school counselors headed by Dr. Carraway recently surveyed 1,100 AP students. The overwhelming majority of them said they would continue taking AP courses despite the changes, Dr. Carraway said.
Charlie Tudor, the dean of the IB program at the Academy of Richmond County, echoed Dr. Carraway.
"Students enrolled in our program are self-motivated," he said. "They meet the challenges that are presented to them."
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