Weighting grades is a heavy issue
March 7, 2017
Unlike many Minnesota high schools, SPA does not offer weighted grades to students enrolled in honors courses. According to a survey run by Cambridge-Isanti High School, 60 percent of Minnesota high schools offer some kind of weighted GPA, which operate on a 1.25 multiplier scale. In this system, an A in an honors course translates to a 5.0 GPA, in comparison to the unweighted 4.0.
SPA should adopt a weighted grading system
While no class at SPA is inherently easy, students who are willing to push themselves to accept the rigorous curriculum and added coursework of honors classes deserve a reward.
SPA’s current grading system is the same for honors and non-honors courses. Weighted GPAs are not available to any student, regardless of which classes they are enrolled in. This means that despite being more time intensive and difficult, AP or honors-level classes are worth the same amount as a class that is part of the mandatory curriculum.
According to the Glossary of Education Reform, “Weighted grades deservedly reward students who take tougher courses, recognize higher levels of academic accomplishment, and provide a more fair or balanced system of grading in schools with multiple academic tracks.”
In addition to leveling the playing-field, a weighted grading scale serves as a buffer for more difficult coursework. Many students who elect not to take honors-level classes choose to do so for the fear of “ruining” their GPA, and this decision limits their access to challenge.
With a weighted grading scale in place, students are given an incentive to push themselves to go beyond what is expected without the threat of a declining grade point average.
Weighted grading systems also come into play in the college enrollment process. Honors courses and a weighted GPA could allow high-achieving students a better chance at admission to more selective universities, and could grant access to academic scholarships. A weighted GPA is an indication that the student is willing to cover and is extremely capable of college-level material.
At SPA, honors courses are not available in the humanities, but many students have worked their way into high level science and math classes as well as senior seminars. While all classes at SPA are rigorous and appropriately challenge the students enrolled in them, students involved in particularly high level courses, or those in classes ahead of their grade level, deserve a reward for their hard work.
SPA should maintain its current unweighted grading system
Although the GPA boost might appeal to students who are already enrolled in honors classes, SPA’s academic structure does not support a weighted grading system, and its policy should stay that way.
Weighted grades are most applicable in large public high schools that have a more diverse range of academic abilities and offer a larger selection of classes: honors, AP, IB or regular. In these schools, a weighted GPA system works to distinguish the stronger and more motivated students out of a much larger sample pool, specifically for class rank and college admissions. Given the limited class offerings and inherent level of competition in the college-preparatory environment, weighted grades would not be beneficial at a small school like SPA. However, students should not fear that they are at a disadvantage compared to their public school counterparts for not having weighted GPAs to report on their college applications.
“College admission officers make it their business to carefully and closely read a student’s transcript and achievement, as measured by grades, in the context of the type of school they attend,” Director of College Counseling and Academic Planning Mary Hill said.
On top of the holistic approach that admission officers take, many colleges recalculate weighted GPAs to their own scale, or only consider the percent grade rather than a weighted one. SPA is known as an academically challenging school, and colleges take that into consideration when reviewing a student’s unweighted grades.
“When in the college search process, you hear admission officers saying ‘take the most challenging courses at your high school.’ Choosing to come to SPA is taking the most challenging courses,” Hill said.
The intensity of honors classes versus non-honors classes is relative. All SPA courses are designed to push the students in them, just varying the depth of content and the pace it is covered. Weighted grades would not recognize comparable academic efforts and achievements between levels, but would instead benefit students who are naturally adept at certain subjects.
Adopting the weighted grading system with the current honors courses available would give an unfair advantage to students who excel in science and math, but would not include students with fine arts or social studies talent. No honors level is offered for English or History–except for one senior elective–because these discussion-based classes are intended to include every voice in order to diversify the students’ understanding of, and appreciation for, history and literature.
A weighted grading system is not applicable to the scope and intensity of SPA’s curriculum. While weighted GPAs might benefit students at larger high schools where challenging courses have to be sought out, SPA students are pushed to reach their potential regardless of what level class they are in, and their effort should not be quantified or compared to students in honors classes. SPA’s current grading system, which works on a 4.0 scale, should be maintained into the foreseeable future.