District weighs merits of weighted grades

Ashley Tanner

Students from the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program at Battle High School proposed the installment of a weighted GPA system for high schools in a meeting with the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education on Sept. 24.  
A weighted GPA system would add an extra point onto the GPA of students who receive an ‘A’ in AP or honors classes. Instead of having a 4.0, they would have a 5.0, pending their grade. Essentially, it would boost a student’s GPA potential if they are enrolled in an advanced class.
CPS Board of Education member Paul Cushing has mixed feelings about the benefits of weighted GPAs.
“I worry that the grading process will become more complex and less impartial,” Cushing said. “I have talked with several people about this, including college admissions folks and have concluded the only reason they are necessary is for a better shot at scholarships.”
In preparing for college, Junior Becca Wells is taking AP US History, AP Language,  AP Calculus AB and Honors Chemistry. In the past, she has also taken AP World History, along with several other honors classes in an effort to prepare her for education in the future. Wells said the only purpose weighted grades serve is to make students feel better about their GPA rather than helping them get into college.
“While they could be perceived as better reflecting the difficulty of a course, the class title on your transcript does that,” Wells said. “Similarly, nearly all colleges apply their own weighting to your transcript to even the playing field, so it doesn’t give you an edge at all, and could actually make you more unprepared.”
One of these colleges is Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, which is ranked No. 10 overall best college and No. 3 best medical program, according to US News & World Report. Admissions representative Matt Balsamo talked about the admissions process at JHU where they focus more on the course load rather than if their GPA is weighted or not.
“We look at both the weighted and unweighted,” Balsamo said. “There’s no specific number we are looking for. It’s varied throughout all of our applications. It varies based on the high school itself and the course load they took.”
With a deeper understanding of how advanced courses work, AP US History teacher Randy Swift believes that weighted GPAs would be beneficial for students. Having taken AP and honors courses when he was in high school and then going on to teach the advanced classes, he sees value in rewarding students for their above and beyond course work.
“They required higher levels of skill, higher expectations,” Swift said. “I thought it was fair that an A in an AP class or an A in an honors class could be weighted more heavily than an A in a regular class.”
Having attended a high school that utilized a weighted GPA system, director of guidance Betsy Jones said she understands most students’ desires for weighted GPAs. But from a realistic standpoint, Jones believes that weighted grades would do more harm than good.
“What they do is they go back and if we weight, they unweight. And so what happens is that it gives people, a false sense of hope,” Jones said. “We are going to have to say that our GPA possible is 5.0 not 4.0 and so in the long run, [it will not] not help our students with college admissions and college entrance.”
These discussions, for and against weighted grades, are familiar to former principal Kathy Ritter. Over the years, she has been able to form an educated opinion that a weighted GPA system would be counterproductive. Ritter concludes that the cons outweigh the pros.
Ritter gathered that benefits include rewards for students’ exemplary work in AP and honors classes as well as more scholarship opportunities for students. She also gathered that the cons are how would it be decided which classes receive the extra point and which do not. Also, most colleges don’t accept a weighted GPA, GPA and students might take an advanced course before they are ready. Another con is not all students have an equal opportunity to receive the additional point.
“Keeping in mind that students have varying abilities, there would be some students that, including some special education students, that will never be able to take an AP course,” Ritter said. “So what you’re also saying is that these students will never be able to get additional points on their GPA, and there’s a question of equity with that.”
Some students, however, feel that weighted grades would be beneficial. Sophomore Hannah Potter supports the proposition to bring weighted GPAs to CPS. Having taken AP and honors classes herself — currently enrolled in AP World History and Honors Biology and finished with Honors Algebra II, Honors Civics and AP Physics — she understands the level of diligence and dexterity required of AP and honors courses.
“[Weighted GPA] rewards students for going the extra mile in their studies,” Potter said. “The grades should be weighted for honors and AP classes because the course work is harder than that of a ‘regular’ class.”
With support coming in from both sides on this issue, Ritter encourages continued conversation.
“In my opinion. I think having the discussion is very positive,” Ritter said. “I think we should definitely continue to discuss  [weighted GPAs],  but I think within that discussion we should consider all students, every single student in this building and how weighted grades impacts every single student.”
infographic by Stephanie Kang