Current system hurts students when it comes to selective colleges, scholarships

Making case for weighted grades

Posted: Friday, October 17, 2003

As the parent of a high school student in the Kenai Peninsula School District, I have become aware of the potential for several district policies to limit the success of our children. In particular is the issue of the district's use of non-weighted grades and resulting effect on a student's class rank. Research on the subject has revealed the following information that I would like to share.

Overview

About half the school systems in the country are currently assigning weighted grades and the number is increasing. This places our children at a disadvantage when competing for selective colleges and national scholarships and raises questions about the selection process for the University of Alaska top 10 percent scholarships.

Not all school systems agree on how to weight grades. However, all schools which weight grades have one thing in common: a commitment to defining "excellence" and to giving credence to what excellence means to them through the process of weighting grades.

Advantages and Disadvantages

School systems that responded to questionnaires sent out by the National Research Center listed both positive and negative aspects regarding weighted grades. The advantages cited include the following: more students taking rigorous classes, top students who graduate at the highest rank in class are taking the most demanding classes in school, better student self-esteem, higher acceptance rates into colleges and universities, and the opportunity for students to improve their GPA and to win college scholarships.

The disadvantages centered on the tracking of students, greater stress among students, students at the lower end of the academic spectrum being left out, and greater parental pressure to take weighted classes.

In order to illustrate how weighted grades can make a significant difference in a student's rank in class, one school district recalculated the nonweighted grades for the top 25 students in three schools. At one school, the student ranked

number 11 in a nonweighted system became number 1 in a weighted system. This student had taken 10 advanced placement courses resulting in a 3.850 grade point average on a 4.0 system. His weighted GPA was 4.224 on a 4.0 system. Similar differences occurred at the other two schools where one student's rank changed position from 18 to 8, and at the third school the student ranked number 16 moved up to 7. These significant changes in class rank could influence admissions and scholarship decisions.

In general all sources agree that weighted grades:

Ensure top ranking in class for advanced students.

Help advanced students be more competitive during the college admission process.

Highlight academic achievement.

Simple, unweighted grade point average systems may place students at a disadvantage when they apply for college admissions and scholarships.

Weighted grades appear to benefit students in most cases. Weighted grading systems foster equity and encourage students to take more challenging classes.

College-University Admissions

Selection Process

High school transcripts submitted to colleges and universities with prospective student applications are often the documents that determine which students are selected and which are offered scholarships. Hence, it is important to know how institutions of higher learning view transcripts. Information from university and college admissions offices indicate:

A student's GPA, class rank and the strength of the high school program weigh more heavily in the selection process than do SAT scores and extracurricular activities.

Weighted grades are more important if the college is unfamiliar with the applicant's school.

Even if an applicant's transcript shows honors and advanced placement courses but the grades are not weighted, the majority of colleges and universities will not assign extra points.

In general, the majority of highly competitive colleges and universities indicate that students with weighted grades have an advantage.

Two researchers reported that 74 percent of surveyed private college admission directors said that students with weighted grades on their transcripts have no advantage over students whose transcripts do not include weighted grades.

However, a comparison of students with the same basic transcript show that the student with weighted grades was chosen over the student with nonweighted grades 76 percent of the time.

Summary

Although many college admissions directors state that students with weighted grades on their transcripts do not have an advantage, admissions results refute this claim.

College admissions offices frequently do not assign added value for honors and advanced placement courses on transcripts that report only nonweighted grades, placing those applicants at a disadvantage for admission and scholarships.

Because a student's GPA, class rank and high school program are valued more highly than SAT scores and extracurricular activities in the admissions selection process, weighted grades ultimately have a large impact on the student's academic future.

For many colleges and universities, it is not feasible to scrutinize thousands of applications so they use the GPA and class as screening tools to filter the applications and as stated in Education Week on the Web: "They see a 3.5 and say, a 3.5 is a 3.5."

I ask, why would the Kenai Peninsula Borough school board not support weighted grades when numerous studies have determined that they provide real advantages to students?

Why would the Kenai Peninsula Borough school board potentially limit the colleges and scholarships our students may have rightly been selected for if their grades had been weighted?

How is it rightly so, that a student taking all lower level classes could be higher ranked than a student taking honors, advanced placement and college courses?

If you are in support of this change, I encourage you to attend the Nov. 3 school board meeting.

John Parson is a resident of Soldotna and a parent of one high school student and one middle school student.



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