News

Guest opinion: Why I support reporting weighted GPAs

 

Some may think the Palo Alto Unified School District board's decision to weight grade point averages (GPAs) will increase student stress and negatively affect school climate. Others believe it will widen the achievement gap. And others oppose it because friends and teachers they trust think it's detrimental to students’ mental health. While I, too, am a strong advocate for student wellness and a healthy school climate, there are several reasons I do not believe weighted GPAs will have the adverse effects that many claim.

One of the arguments against reporting weighted grades is that students will feel pressured into taking more challenging, weighted classes in order to cushion their GPA and appear more competitive when applying to college. However, as long as Paly offers any Advanced Placement (AP) and honors classes, there will always be internal and external pressure on students to take the higher-level classes. The reality is that Paly already offers unweighted honors classes, which many students take despite the lack of GPA weighting, because they know it will provide them with a competitive edge for college admissions.

As any student who has been to a college admissions talk will know, admissions officers emphasize that they consider not only an applicant's grade point average but also the rigor of their course load. Many students view this as an incentive to take more challenging classes to distinguish themselves from fellow students, even if these classes are not weighted. As long as Paly offers the various levels of courses that are distinguished as such on transcripts, there will always be an incentive for students to take harder classes, regardless of whether they are weighted or not.

If Paly wants to address the problem of student stress, it would likely be more effective for the school to cease the practice of offering "honors" classes and to provide AP weighting only to the most rigorous classes that are deserving of college credit, which may more effectively deter students from taking classes simply to stockpile APs.

Teachers and students alike have expressed their concern that reporting weighted grades will further widen the achievement gap, as students with the resources to take AP classes could end up having significantly higher GPAs than minorities or other groups of students who may not have equal access to advanced classes. Though the range of GPAs may widen among students if Paly chooses to weight GPAs, the achievement gap itself will remain unaffected. The achievement gap can rather be solved by reducing the levels of courses offered, such as accelerated or honors classes or by working to provide disadvantaged students with more resources.

There is a reason why choosing not to report weighted GPAs could adversely affect a student's chance of college admission: Some schools have a hard GPA cut-off for scholarship eligibility. In this case, reporting an unweighted GPA could significantly hurt students' chances of meeting scholarship requirements for certain schools.

Some universities, including the University of Oregon and University of Colorado, Boulder, do not recalculate applicants' GPAs (with weighting) when considering students for scholarships. Because both of these universities are popular and well-respected at Paly, students and administrators are aware of these two schools as being outliers among a vast number of schools that do recalculate student GPAs. However, the fact that these two widely known universities do not follow this practice makes it likely that other smaller, lesser-known universities also do not recalculate GPAs.

In this case, reporting weighted GPAs could prove to be beneficial for Paly students because it provides a safety net for those who may apply to universities that do not recalculate GPA or that follow their own protocol, especially for students with borderline GPAs.

Ultimately, as college admissions become more competitive in the U.S., with an increasing number of students applying internationally and tuition costs at an all-time high, it benefits all students to be given whatever advantage they can get in terms of admission and scholarships.

The school board has made the decision to weight Paly students' GPAs for the class of 2017, but it has yet to decide what the protocol will be for graduating students in coming years. While there may be flaws in both reporting practices, I urge members of our community to take a step back and question whether the epidemic of student stress in Palo Alto will truly be affected by this practice. It is easy to pin Palo Alto's longstanding problems with student wellness and mental health to the schools' GPA-reporting practices, but there are obviously deeper, far more complex issues at play in our community that push students to take harder and more rigorous classes regardless of how they are credited, and addressing these underlying issues holistically is far more effective and worthwhile.

Rima Parekh is a senior at Palo Alto High School and can be contacted at irmaparekh@gmail.com.

Comments

40 people like this
Posted by Stress Wrong Reason to Not Weigh
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 1, 2017 at 12:22 pm

(Potential) stress should be addressed at the level of class registration--counseling, meeting, reflection, not at the level of grade reporting. Students who are pressured to take more challenging classes should be honest with themselves, with their parents and counselors, while students who sincerely want to challenge themselves get the reported GPAs they deserve.


47 people like this
Posted by A Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 1, 2017 at 4:16 pm

GPA is only used to apply for schools, scholarships, or internship.

This is a simple question - how to report grades that students "already earned". It only needs a simple answer- the highest that the student earned to get the best chance in college admission, scholarships, and internships. All other concerns and issues should be de-coupled and handled separated.

Social emotion is a character-building issue, not a grade reporting issue. Underperforming student groups is a academic-teaching issue, not a grade reporting issue. Whether to offer more non-STEM courses is a course-planning issue, not a grade reporting issue. Only when we separate these issues, then we can tackle these issues.


31 people like this
Posted by Michael O
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 1, 2017 at 5:51 pm

It only matters what colleges do with the grades. PAUSD should not handicap its students when applying to colleges compared to what other high schools do. If it is the colleges who calculate the GPA then it doesn't matter, if colleges do not then it certainly does. What college would rely on a high school to report a GPA and not calculate their own to determine which students to accept?


51 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 2, 2017 at 10:17 pm

Fact - College admission is getting more and more competitive.
Fact - Most quality high schools in the nation offer honors and AP classes.
Fact - Most high schools in the Bay Area report wGPA.
Fact - wGPA will help our students get into college, and more importantly obtain merit scholarship

Let's report wGPA to encourage those who take on challenges and reward them for their hard work!


34 people like this
Posted by Gunn student
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 2, 2017 at 11:40 pm

Thank you Rima for taking the time to write on this topic. As you mentioned, stress can have many sources, too many extracurricular activities that do not allow time for HW and sleep. Stress due to relationship breakups, family tensions, etc. To claim that stress is linked to wGPA and have zero data to support it, does not get past this community of engaged parents. Meanwhile, there are plenty of us, students, including Rima, telling you that wGPA reporting on transcripts using the traditional wGPA method (Gunn Method, which is the most widely used method across the nation) reduces their stress. At Gunn student forum , the message was loud and clear: please put our wGPA on the transcript and use the traditional method of calculating the wGPA. it is not too much to ask when it is easy for you to do this. We are the ones who take the more challenging classes and the extra homework. We deserve getting the best chance in our send off to universities as compared to the rest of Bay Area and the country. Over 70% of high schools report wGPA. why would be want to look pitiful when we have done the work, we deserve it and it is not the shirt off your back.


6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 3, 2017 at 8:04 am

Thank you for this article. To be clear, I am fine with WGPA and believe it is a done deal at this point. Those who want to fall on the sword of maximum APs and such should feel free to do so and see what it gets them.

My concern however is that nowhere in the article does she or any of the above comments discuss taking advanced courses for love of learning or passion for a subject matter. Everything instead is about this conveyor belt for college admissions.

[Portion removed.]


27 people like this
Posted by To Be Fair
a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 3, 2017 at 2:29 pm

[Portion removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

With articles that mention pursuit of interest, those who support unweighted had countered with - well, then it doesn't matter whether grades are weighted or otherwise since they love doing the courses.

It all boils down to fairness. You work hard at a higher level, you deserve to be recognized just like tens of thousands of students from other school districts. Not to weight GPAs is to put our students at an unfair disadvantage.

I didn't have a clear position until I started finding out more about the advantages on both sides. Numbers and Facts do not lie. Students, teachers and parents should be provided with objective factual information. Amongst other reliable sources, take a look at a consolidation site at yeswgpa.org


2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 3, 2017 at 3:05 pm

[Post removed due to it responding to a deleted comment.]


10 people like this
Posted by To be Fair
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 3, 2017 at 5:08 pm

Dear Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto

Pointing out that the mentioning of passion and love of learning is missing in the article is a fact. Questioning if that's how Rima writes her college essay is a personal attack.

Joelle enjoys the freedom of learning in non-weighted form and doesn't feel that weighted is needed to applaud students. Our athletes are rewarded with trophies and accolades and their achievements are celebrated in a big way. Should we continue to applaud athletes then? I was pointing out the difference in treatment in our school district. It is was not directed at her.


21 people like this
Posted by Parent of a junior
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2017 at 9:25 pm

Thanks for your courage to speak out. Considering the Paly's Admin's attitude toward the wGPA, and the peer pressure as a result of that, I give you two thumbs up!!


14 people like this
Posted by A Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 3, 2017 at 10:39 pm

@ Parent a resident of Old Palo Alto

Ms. Parekh's article above is to discuss why she supports wGPA, not to discuss the overall motivation of learning. As I said before, all other concerns and issues should be decoupled and handled separately. Please don't mix them together again.

Based on my daughter's experience at PALY. In the honor and AP classes, rarely any student joined the class simply wanting to the boost their grade points. The reason is simple - if you are not somewhat interested in the subject, you will be buried by the workload in no time. Many dropped within a few weeks. For those who chose to stay, even though the courses are super-demanding, they enjoy the learning! Most students who can ace AP courses are not because they are smarter, but because they have true interest in the subject since long time ago, and they have been exploring and studying the subject by themselves since at least middle school. Nowadays, with free online information and free course offerings like Khan Academy, you can learn a ton by yourself without spending a dime.

On the contrast, some non-honor electives that my daughter took was far from satisfactory. Yes, it's much easier to get an A. But from time to time, there were a portion of students who did not want to learn but just came for the easy grade. Or even worse, the teacher thought everyone was there to relax and did not teach much. There are of course very good and inspiring teachers who teach elective courses, but others do exist.


9 people like this
Posted by challenge all assumptions
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 4, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Ms.Parekh does not see an association between stress and how GPAs are reported, and supports reporting weighted GPAs on transcripts.

She suggests instead that our high schools consider dropping all of their honors courses. That would mean dropping Algebra and Geometry Honors; Biology, Chemistry and Physics Honors; Spanish, French and German 3; and all other honors classes.

Paly's been trying to de-lane its classes for a few years now. This would be a big step in that direction and may be what Paly administrators are telling students is best for them.

[Portion removed due to inaccurate factual assertion.]

1. Fewer weighted classes mean lower weighted GPAs and not as many seniors who will pass the merit scholarship GPA thresholds, the problem the board is trying to solve.

2. If you drop honors courses, students who thrive in the honors lane are in a predicament:

A. choose the regular lane, learn less, and be less attractive to colleges and for scholarships because you did not challenge yourself, or

B. take an AP you didn't want, ensuring that your college options will be more limited if you struggle and your grades suffer

- all because no honors option was available.

3. It would be taking 10 steps backwards, especially now that the UCs are letting more classes carry honors credit so more students in the middle (not just AP students) can qualify for their limited spots.

Starting this year, UC has opened honors weighting to 10th grade honors courses and more 11th and 12th grade subjects.

Paly and Gunn can re-submit 10th grade Chemistry Honors for UC weighting. It used to be weighted but a few years ago lost that because of the 10th grade ban. It qualifies again if PAUSD submits it. Los Altos High's 10th grade Chemistry Honors already gets the extra weight as do 100s of other California high schools' Chem Honors classes. Web Link=

Honors classes, if approved, carry the same 1 extra GPA point that their AP counterparts carry even though those APs often are more difficult and homework-intensive classes.

BTW The selective UC campuses do not limit the number of weighted classes they fold into the student's UC GPA. Web Link. For example, UCLA recently reported a 23% increase in the number it admitted who took at least 21 which is 3 and 1/2 weighted classes each semester of 10th, 11th and 12th grades. With the new rules, that percent should increase at all 9 UC campuses and make Paly and Gunn students, if honors classes go away, much less likely to be offered a spot.


34 people like this
Posted by A Quiet and Shy Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2017 at 2:57 pm

I admire Ms. Parekh's courage which inspires me to post here, although I have always been so quiet and shy in support of WGPA. I know it very well that at Paly, it requires great deal of courage to express your favor of WGPA because the school admin and many teachers disfavor it. I have been reading information from both sides (some of them are not from our school such as Web Link) and the more I learn, the more I believe WGPA benefits our students in their schoarships and college admissions. The Challenge Success reports findings are "interesting" to me, because many of the findings there surprised me when I first read. For example, their survey result that the most frequently used word by Gunn students to decribe their school (a WGPA school) is "Caring and Accepting". On the contrary, the most frequently used word by our Paly students to describe our school (an UNWGPA school) is "Stressful". These survey results may suggest that an unweighted GPA does not remove our students from stress. Further, the WGPA like Gunn has been using could help students to reduce stress and encourage students to take challenging courses such as Honors and APs. Yes, to be fair, to help students reduce stress and promote the idea of challenging themselves without too much worry, as well as to enhance our students' opportunities in their scholarships and college applications, I decide to not remain "quiet" and post here to thank Ms. Parekh and support WGPA "visibly".


23 people like this
Posted by Concerned Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 4, 2017 at 6:35 pm

Thank you Rima for your well written opinion on this issue! I know it must not be easy to take a stand that is contrary to that of the administration and teachers at your school, especially on this issue that has become so divisive. That shows that you are a courageous and independent thinker.

I agree that we should not pin student stress on weighting GPAs (in fact at the board meetings we heard from students that not weighting GPAs was a cause for stress) and I wonder why the district does not tackle the "easy" issues causing stress, the issues we can all easily agree upon like test stacking, number of finals per day, implementing the homework policy, being able to drop your worst test score and other ideas that are not new and based on feedback from the student surveys. These are ideas that are easy to implement and can only help our students, and yet this administration seems focused on the GPA issue as THE issue affecting student stress. This fact is not lost upon the students and may be itself causing student stress.

The one idea in the opinion piece I do not agree with is entertaining the elimination of honors classes. Honors classes are a stepping stone or gateway to AP classes and can encourage students to challenge themselves where they otherwise would not be willing to take a giant leap (by taking an AP class). This stands to benefit HUR students as well. Eliminating honors classes would hurt a large part of the student body and could cause more of a divide.

Thank you again Rima, for your courageous opinion!


13 people like this
Posted by challenge all assumptions
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 5, 2017 at 9:01 am

Ms. Parekh,

From Challenge Success' paper “The Advanced Placement Program: Living Up To Its Promise?”

On Advanced Classes and Stress:

Challenge Success' paper says "our research shows that stress levels in students are not necessarily correlated to the number of AP classes they take." Web Link Reported in the Palo Alto Weekly's article "Do AP classes live up to their promise?" Web Link

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Parent Like Sharing
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 5, 2017 at 11:59 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


9 people like this
Posted by A Quiet and Shy Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2017 at 12:22 pm

[Portion removed.]

National high school student engagement is not particularly high and declines steeply as students advance through school:


At school,


•Only 33% are not bored


•Around 50% are chronically disengaged


Challenge Success found that only 1/3 of students in “high performing schools” are fully engaged.


Students who are “fully engaged” share these common characteristics:


- Experience significantly less stress and worry (about grades, school and college) ;


- Take significantly more advanced courses; Have significantly higher GPAs;


- Get significantly more sleep and take fewer drugs;


- Are significantly less sad and less angry;


- Cheat significantly less often; and


- Develop closer connections with teachers


Researchers don’t know what causes a student to be “fully engaged.” For example, it could be values instilled by a student’s parents; but they tend to agree on what “facilitates” student engagement:


- For the student: Student choice, student-voice initiatives


- In the classroom: Clear goals and immediate feedback


- At school: Caring, supportive relationships


Challenge Success lists other strategies schools can employ that


“might be effective antidotes to the prevalence of disengagement”:


•More active and interactive teaching; more interesting, relevant and rigorous curricula


•School and class size; school schedule (i.e. block)


[Portion removed.]

Gunn students report higher levels of engagement.


- Purposefully engaged: Paly (33%); Gunn (33%)

- Fully engaged: Paly (18%); Gunn (22%)

- “Doing school” and not engaged: Paly (46%); Gunn (40%)


Overall, PAUSD students rate Gunn more favorably than Paly on:


(i) more engagement with respect to: (a) More teacher caring and support; and (b) More student voice and choice; and


(ii)less stress, less worry, and less homework load.


More Gunn students than Paly students report homework is “just right" - Gunn: "Just Right" (56%), "Too Much" (41%), whereas Paly: "Just Right" (46%), "Too Much" (52%)


Students rate Gunn stronger on strategies that encourage “full engagement”


- "Care and Support" (1+ adults to go to at school with problems): Paly (61%), Gunn (70%)


- Student Voice/Choice: Paly (59%); Gunn: (67%)


Both Paly and Gunn, students taking more AP and Honors classes are significantly more engaged and closer to their teachers.



Sources:


•Connor, J. and Pope, D. “Student Engagement in High Performing Schools: Relationships to Mental and Physical Health,” Yearbook of the National Society for the Student of Education. V113, Issue 1, Pages 80+ (2013)


•Connor, J., and Pope, D. “Not just robo-students: Why full engagement matters and how schools can promote it.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence (2013)


•Challenge Success, “The Advanced Placement Program: Living Up To Its Promise?” White Paper (2013)


•Challenge Success, “Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences Report: Gunn High School,” 2015 and Challenge Success, “Stanford Survey of

Adolescent School Experiences Report: Palo Alto High School,” 2015


•Developmental Assets Executive Summary and Complete Survey Report, Palo Alto High School (2011) and Developmental Assets Executive Summary and Complete Survey Report, Gunn High School (2011)


•School Profile, Palo Alto High School (2016) and School Profile, Gunn High School (2016)


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

El Camino: Another scheme to increase congestion?
By Douglas Moran | 24 comments | 2,650 views

Trials of My Grandmother
By Aldis Petriceks | 2 comments | 1,305 views

Lakes and Larders (part 2)
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 1,039 views

Salt & Straw Palo Alto to open Nov. 23
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 1,036 views