To the Editor:
I want to commend the Board of Education on making what I believe to be the right decision on weighted grades. The arguments in favor of weighting grades are mostly from parents who are concerned that Wilton High School students are at a disadvantage in the college admissions process. In today’s competitive environment, parents want to ensure their children have a fair chance at securing a spot at a selective school. Leaders in the school district are also motivated to see that their students are successful in college admissions. That is one measure by which the quality of the district is assessed. However, the superintendent and teachers are in favor of retaining unweighted grades, citing concerns about a cascade of unintended consequences, including impacts on students’ course selections and stress levels. In the end, the Board favored the recommendation of the professionals in the schools.
Parents’ fears about college admissions are not unfounded. Consider this excerpt from a blog the Tufts University admissions office posted on March 30.
“…As you may know, Tufts received 20,222 undergraduate applications this year, a six-percent increase from our twin-record pools of the past two years. In fact, it’s the first time the University has received more than 20,000 applications. When you combine that rising volume with the fixed size of our entering class and the increasing yield we’ve experienced on our offers during the last few years, the admissions arithmetic triggered another drop in Tufts’ acceptance rate.”
As the Class of ’20 makes its debut, a record-low acceptance rate of 14-percent produced it. That’s a two-point drop from last year and a 10-point shift in Tufts’ selectivity over the last five years…
…The acceptance rate is a vivid example of supply (1,325 places in our next freshman class) and demand (20,222 applicants) in action. And the “supply” Tufts is privileged to consider is quite special: 78 percent of our applicants were evaluated by an admission officer as “qualified” for admission based on the academic credentials we reviewed. That’s almost 16,000 students…
…We read and reread the required elements of every file… And the selection committee was often impressed by what we read: the various territory managers recommended 40 percent of our applicants as potential acceptances. That’s 8,108 candidates whose applications were compelling from a holistic perspective (i.e., not just evaluating grades and testing).
It is a story my daughter, a WHS senior, and I heard time and again as we visited colleges and universities over the last year. Application rates keep rising, and admit rates continue to fall. It is enough to strike fear in the hearts of students and parents.
But the impulse to weight grades is an attempt to solve a problem that cannot be solved by Wilton High School. The uncomfortable fact is that no student is assured a seat at any particular college or university, even if she has all the qualifications to be admitted, as illustrated by the Tufts blog post. There are just too many bright, successful, interesting students in the applicant pool. But if we look at WHS students as a group, they are successful in college admissions. Every year our students are admitted to the Ivy League, top liberal arts colleges and very selective national universities. According to school superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith, WHS students are admitted to “Most/Highly Selective” colleges at similar rates to other area schools that do weight grades. It is cold comfort to a student who was rejected by his first choice school, but WHS students are on the whole being admitted to and enrolling in excellent colleges and universities.
So if there is not an easy fix to give our kids a leg up in the admissions game, what are we to do?
First, we can put aside our fear and remember that our children’s success in high school should not be measured by the prestige of the colleges they gain admission to. Nor will the school where they enroll determine their future success. What they do there will. College is not the end of the story; it is the next step in their development. We can help each student find colleges that are the right fit for her, and there are likely to be a few that fit the bill.
Also, as parents and educators, we can do our best to ensure that our students are prepared to seek out and maximize the opportunities available to them once they are on campus. We can foster an environment where they are appropriately challenged academically and where they are encouraged to try new things, in and out of the classroom. We can support them in their failures, so they are not afraid to take a risk. We can teach them to respect others’ differences and admire others’ strengths. We can help them to develop independence, so that they can make decisions for themselves.
None of these things will change the landscape of college admissions. But they will equip our students with the skills and dispositions they need to face the challenge with strength and resilience.