Students weigh in on weighted grades


Students checking their grades on home access should be aware of all incomplete assignments. Photo by Suriyanshi Rawat

Jacob Sykuta

As course enrollment and preparations occur for the 2018-2019 school year, students ready themselves for another academic year, only having barely completed half of the current one. They choose among taking Advanced Placement (AP), honors courses or the on-level class.
For junior Matthew Burns, the decision was easy. He took AP World History as a sophomore and is currently enrolled in AP Statistics, AP U.S. History, AP Language and Composition and AP Psychology.
“I prefer AP courses because I feel like I’m able to learn more information and in greater detail,” Burns said. “I am able to surround myself with peers who also enjoy challenging themselves, creating a strong atmosphere for learning.”
While Burns likes taking advanced placement courses, he only selects classes that he believes he is prepared to take. With AP World History and AP U.S. History, Burns had a grasp on both history courses before taking the classes, and he believed he would be more successful in both college-level courses.
“The subject completely influences my decision on whether I should take AP,” Burns said. “By taking an AP course, I am saying that I am at least somewhat knowledgeable in this field and can handle a fast-paced class, but that isn’t always the case.”
Being an AP teacher for five years and an AP student for three years in high school, AP World History teacher Gregory Irwin believes there are benefits and drawbacks to both AP and on-level classes. Additionally, Irwin believes there is a misunderstanding of the rigors that AP entails, many students thinking the coursework will remain exceedingly difficult throughout the school year. Irwin thinks that the coursework, however, is difficult at the beginning but becomes less intense as the school year progresses.
“I do think that it’s a lot of work, especially early on to get used to it, so people are just afraid that it’s unnecessarily hard,” Irwin said. “But we are trying to get people who just finished their freshman year [to take] a college class [which is] four or five years ahead of where they are [in school]. That just takes some work.”
Senior Kevin Kiehne, who has taken AP Economics, AP Calculus BC, AP Physics 1, and is currently enrolled in AP Statistics, AP Physics 2, AP Psychology, and successfully completed Calculus 3 at the University of Missouri – Columbia is a strong advocate for AP courses. But since he made the decision to take regular social studies classes, he is an equally strong supporter of students who choose to enroll in regular classes, even if there is an AP option available.
“I took regular studies classes because I’m not a big fan of English or social studies, so I saw no point in taking an AP class in a subject I’m not interested in,” Kiehne said. “I think regular courses are a great way to get necessary credit for classes that you just want to get credit for, and [they] give yourself a break for harder classes.”
Despite the benefits of on-level courses, Kiehne thinks the advantages of AP classes are just as great, which makes students look more impressive to colleges than students who only take regular classes. Kiehne, like other students, hopes that colleges will recognize the high challenge and commitment needed to successfully pass an AP class and that it will result in a boost on college applications.
“I think AP courses are a great way to earn college credit and get a good idea of what you want to study in college,” Kiehne said. “I [also] think AP classes require a high level of dedication that colleges are looking for in the admissions process.”
Other than the level of difficulty that the different level courses involve, Irwin believes that an equally important factor within students decision to take AP versus on-level is student intentions regarding future education. Additionally, Irwin thinks it is increasingly difficult for midwest high schoolers to impress highly competitive universities. With Missouri ranking 39 for education compared to other states in an article published by US News, Irwin thinks AP courses are the way to make students stand out to elite colleges.
“Being a middle class or even upper-middle-class kid from Missouri, you’ve got to realize that we are pretty much in the bottom 10 in every education metric in the country,” Irwin said. “You are already at a competitive disadvantage; you just are. You have to achieve and prove yourself to be equal as everyone else. You have to be a step better if you want to go out of Missouri for undergrad.”
While popular opinion throughout the United States is that Grade Point Average (GPA) matters to universities during the selection and acceptance process, the truth of the matter, according to USA Today, is that it ultimately depends on the college or university. Admissions deans from the University of Virginia and Swarthmore College, both top-ranked colleges in the 2018 rankings of USA Today and the Princeton Review, admit that they barely look at an applicants GPA during the process.
Similar to opinions on course enrollment, when GPA is brought up, student ideology continues to differ from one another. While some students prefer the current 4.0 grading scale, some teachers and students see the benefits of weighted GPAs. The weighted GPA system takes the difficulty of classes into account, along with grades, to create a fairer grading scale to students in challenging courses. Kiehne is in opposition of weighted GPA systems, believing he would’ve felt forced and pressured into taking AP classes he knew he wouldn’t succeed in.
“I think weighted grades have their advantages, but I also think if we had weighted grades, it would have added a lot more stress for me,” Kiehne said. “I would’ve felt obligated to take AP studies classes for example, and I would have suffered.  Plus, a lot of classes like choir, culinary, or theater may not be the most academically challenging, but for some kids these are the most important classes they take. It doesn’t seem fair to penalize students who take electives that aren’t weighted as much as APs, but are just as important.”
Irwin, who attended Marquette High School which uses a weighted GPA system, is a proponent for a similar system to be implemented at Rock Bridge and throughout Columbia Public Schools (CPS).
“I really think it would be beneficial for our school to move to weighted grades,” Irwin said. “I think weighted grades would increase AP enrollment and retaining kids.”
Ultimately, it is the student’s choice whether or not to enroll in an AP level course, or remain in the on-level class. Despite the numerous benefits that both AP and regular classes provide, it is up to students to see if they are ready for the challenges of AP. Although Burns prefers AP courses to on-level, he understands the difficulties of taking a college level course as a high schooler.
“AP courses can be your best friend, but also your worst nightmare,” Burns said. “They give you a great learning experience, new insight, and provide you an advantage in college, however, AP courses accomplish this by being similar to a college course.”