Weighted grade point averages should be the exception, not the standard –– printed on transcripts only when a student needs a weighted GPA to apply for a merit scholarship. A weighted GPA sends the message that numbers define my academic worth, the exact message our community has long been trying to dispel.
Because Paly does not report weighted grades, I felt free to explore, join two publications, take theatre classes and experiment with nanotechnology. I didn’t feel the need to take every honors and AP course; I had the time to delve deep into my extracurriculars, make lasting memories with my high school friends and get a relatively reasonable amount of sleep.
At a school where we often share our grades with each other when a test is returned, unweighted GPAs protect us from ranking ourselves against one another when transcripts are handed out in advisory.
Superintendent Max McGee, Paly Principal Kim Diorio, Gunn Principal Denise Herrmann, the school guidance departments and tenured Paly teachers are all against weighted grade point averages.
Proponents of reporting weighted grades emphasize the need to align practices between the district’s two high schools and improve students’ college-admissions chances. But alignment can go either way, and Paly students’ unweighted GPAs have fared just fine in the college admissions process.
As of April 2015, Gunn was preparing to change to Paly’s unweighted system in hopes of reducing student stress. Principal Hermann told the Gunn Oracle: “We’ve checked in with some Ivy League schools and Stanford and they said that most highly selective schools completely ignore weighted grades because every high school in the United States weights them somewhat differently. What we’ve been doing as an administration team is looking at whether there would be any potential harm if we stopped doing this, and the initial answer is ‘no’ because Paly has just as high acceptance rates as we do and they have not had any weighted grades for five years now.”
During course selection, our district has to discourage students from taking too many honors and APs through time-management worksheets, contracts and individual meetings. Weighting courses will do the exact opposite. By weighting grades, the GPA scale shifts from 4.0 to 5.0, so an A in an unweighted class could lower a student’s GPA.
Assigning different values to different courses is inappropriate. Classes like sociology, biotechnology, choir, jazz and journalism deserve to be valued just as much as AP Physics and Honors Algebra. They allow students to follow their curiosity, specialize in areas of interest and pursue passions.
The school board’s decision last fall for the Class of 2017 was a giant step backward. I hope our community can now take more than two steps forward –– to maintain unweighted GPAs and continue to discuss and evaluate the culture that we create and continue to strive to improve it.
Our community is notorious for its focus on success. While aspiring to success is healthy, aspiring to a single measure is not. When we start to define what success is by assigning objective values to different experiences and life choices, we need to take a few steps back and remember that our community is special because it’s comprised of individuals. Looking at our community purely in terms of numbers –– our school rankings, our average SATs, our GPA distributions –– we are beyond successful. It’s time we catch up emotionally and socially and emphasize what can’t be measured –– who each individual Palo Altan is.
Instead of weighting GPAs, can we encourage inquiry-driven learning for the sake of learning? Can we harness the freedom that blended courses offer to grow beyond the constrictions of the AP and provide classes that are based on discussion, exploration and analytical debate? Can we celebrate passions without accolades? Can we require free time, adequate hours of sleep, time spent with friends, or reading books for pleasure?
High school shouldn’t be about manufacturing GPAs.
This is our time to explore, take risks and develop skills we didn’t know we had. We must feel free to choose courses that support the self-discovery and personal growth needed to carry us past bachelors and masters and doctorates to what matters most: the way our educations are put to use and how we shape our lives –– the friends and partners we choose, the families we create, the companies we start, the books we write, the films we make, the people we heal, the technologies we invent and the lessons we pass down to our children.
Joelle Dong is a senior at Palo Alto High School and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.