In Palo Alto district, discussion heats up over GPA boost for Honors and AP classes

November 28, 2016 — by Caitlyn Chen and Michelle Lee

At Palo Alto High School, the Class of 2017 has the choice of submitting through Common Apps their weighted or unweighted GPAs. But it was brought to the school board’s attention that having weighted GPAs might increase stress levels, as APs and Honors grades are reported on a 5.0 scale.

 

At Palo Alto High School, the Class of 2017 has the choice of submitting through Common Apps their weighted or unweighted GPAs. But it was brought to the school board’s attention that having weighted GPAs might increase stress levels, as APs and Honors grades are reported on a 5.0 scale.

Yet at their district counterpart, Gunn High School, students get their weighted GPA sent on their official transcript through Common Apps, perhaps putting the seniors at Palo Alto at a certain disadvantage.

“The Palo Alto seniors were complaining because the school was only submitting their unweighted GPAs, and their transcripts looked worse than those of Gunn,” Palo Alto sophomore Jeseop Hwang said.

This difference in 5.0 grade-point versus 4.0 grade-point systems has stirred controversy in both schools. In response, Palo Alto High School and the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) have decided to allow Palo Alto students to submit their weighted GPAs through the Common Application.  

Initially, PAUSD wanted to implement Palo Alto’s unweighted GPA system amongst all schools to close the “gap” between the two student bodies. Both the Palo Alto principal and the district board agree that because every high school weighs GPAs differently, most highly selective colleges will ignore weighted GPAs.

However, most of the district’s students and parents, primarily from Palo Alto, argued for the implementation of the weighted GPA system. They feared that the differences in systems could negatively affect students’ college options and ability to apply for merit-based scholarships.

“It’s easy to jump on a bandwagon that a weighted GPA would potentially make one student’s GPA look more attractive than the rest,” Gunn senior Jenna Marvet wrote in an opinion piece in the Gunn Oracle supporting the unweighted GPA system.

In reality, Marvet said, increasing a student’s GPA with the weight does not really matter because colleges will calculate GPA the way they want anyway.

Many Saratoga students agree that those who take the challenge of harder classes should be awarded with a grade boost because Honors and AP classes require more effort and time in terms of homework and studying.

“In the case of Trig PreCalc Honors and Trig PreCalc Regular, the difficulty between the two classes is immense, almost drawing parallel to the difference between an AP class and a regular class,” junior Charles Qi said. “By the end of the year, students who took the honors class have learned more than the students in the regular class, so they should be rewarded with a grade boost.”

Yet having an unweighted GPA system was argued to help reduce student stress by decreasing students’ needs to take harder and unnecessary classes just for the extra grade boost.

Superintendent Max McGee of the PAUSD wrote in a staff report that having weighted GPAs only contributes to a “hyper-competitive culture and self-inflicted pressure to get As and to take as many APs as possible.” McGee proposed that the district issue formal letters for seniors who need to have their weighted GPA reported, whether for scholarship purposes or outside programs.

At Saratoga, science teacher Jenny Garcia said that teachers have discussed the benefits of switching to an unweighted GPA scale at some faculty meetings.

“We want students to take classes because they’re interested in the subject,” Garcia said. “By putting a weight on that grade, you’re filling those classes with students who care more about the GPA than the subject matter, and that’s not healthy.”

Similarly, in Palo Alto, in an open letter with 68 signatures to the PAUSD board of education, teachers said that adding weighted GPAs would elevate AP culture at the expense of electives, enable ranking of students and lead to the “pressure to revive the abandoned practice of naming a ‘valedictorian’ and ‘salutatorian.’”

Despite the benefits argued by many teachers at Saratoga, the issue has not been brought to the school board, yet it could become a topic of interest in the future.

The Saratoga administration has been open to changing the grade-point scale in order to reduce student stress, assistant principal Brian Safine said.

“We’re always evaluating our practices and thinking about what’s best for our students,” Safine said. “I can point to statistical data that would suggest eliminating pluses and minuses would help a student’s GPA, so if we have evidence like that for other grade issues, we would always be willing to take a look at it.”

 
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