Withdrawing unexpected changes to school profile the correct decision

February 8, 2020 — by Michael Wong and Jeffrey Xu

As the start of early college applications began last fall, the administration unveiled an unexpected GPA distribution table in the school profile, which goes to colleges. A push from the parent community resulted in a change that further refined the table, providing even finer GPA categories for each bracket and the exact number of students in each group. This was a surprising reversal of recent policies geared toward reducing stress and improving the academic environment because the chart could effectively show class rankings of seniors.

A second outcry from the community forced the school to backpedal on the change, and the whole fiasco was over within a week after it started, ultimately resulting in the original less detailed version of the GPA distribution table being sent to colleges.

Though the administration’s quick response to the concerns of the community is commendable, the initial decision to include a detailed chart was unexpected and impactful. Upholding the finely tuned GPA scale would have promoted the toxic academics that the school has tried to curtail for years.

The concern over the chart was mainly with its implementation. Having a GPA distribution table is normal; in fact, most schools around the Bay Area have some sort of infographic, but the proposed table was so finely separated that it effectively spelled out class rank.

 While most schools generally separate student data by half point increments and unweighted GPAs, the proposal combined quarter point increments with weighted GPAs, with an even narrower 4.5 to 4.67 increment on the very top. Viewers, namely colleges, can then infer an understanding of the comparable ability of each student from the exact number of students displayed within each of the small ranges, second only to a rank number in student transcripts.

The obvious problem with including something so similar to actual class ranking results from the increasing competitiveness of admissions. Factors such as acceptance rates are considered in national rankings, which has led colleges to buy student information from CollegeBoard to artificially increase application numbers, while maintaining the number of freshmen accepted (see Tulane University).

For class rank, top universities sometimes tout their class compositions as the top percentile of their students’ respective high schools, a factor in most national rankings.

The question then becomes whether the school should actively distinguish the 13 students in the class of 2020 who have acquired above a 4.5 GPA using detailed categories, or instead group the top 50 percent of students who have above a weighted 4.0 GPA into a single broad category. The latter would benefit above-average students as it still groups them into the premier category, whereas the former would solely benefit top students.

If the reasons for previous changes such as discarding the use of pluses and minuses in the grading system in 2016 in order to establish a uniform grading system and decrease academic stress still holds, then such specific segmentation of GPAs should similarly be discarded.

While comparative rankings can foster healthy rivalries and drive students to work hard, these are already inherent in the multitude of competitions and activities students participate in. Extending such competitiveness to school academics will only cause the school’s learning environment to be more toxic. Rather than inward competition between their own ranks, students should compete against the best in other schools and foster a supportive environment within the school. This is what allows the school to thrive against the best, while heeding concern to students’ mental health.

Changing student metrics in the school profile is consequential and warrants a thorough discussion before any implementation, especially when it comes at the request of few. Because the inclusion of a more detailed GPA table brings greater peer pressure and stress without causing significant detriment in its absence, the withdrawal of the proposal was a timely and appropriate solution.