This article was written by one of GMW.com‘s WHS senior interns, Stephanie Scamuffo.
A frequent debate in high school education today is whether or not to weigh grades. To be sure, it’s a controversial issue impacting students, parents, educators, and administrators alike. Wilton has grappled with the dilemma in the past, and Wilton High School made the choice years ago to not weight grades. But at last month’s Board of Education meeting, school officials reopened the discussion, and started to more closely examine and reconsider the choice.
During the meeting, the board members and the public heard what teachers, administrators, guidance counselors and researchers had to say about the subject, but the student voice wasn’t represented at the meeting. Aside from some emails students have sent to the board members, many haven’t spoken up publicly with what they think and how they feel on the grade weighting topic.
Weighted grades pertain to a student’s GPA (grade point average). Unweighted grades indicate that the GPA is scaled on a 4.0 scale. A 4.0 GPA means that the student received all A’s, and every half a letter grade below decreases the GPA by about .25-.3 of a percentage; it’s a scale that is applied unilaterally for all grades in all types of classes (typical, honors, IB, and/or Advanced Placement). Weighted grades are frequently ranked on a 5.0 scale, where if a student takes AP, dual enrollment, IB, or honors level courses, their grades carry more “weight” than typical level courses. So a “B” in an honors level course equates to an “A” in a typical level course. There are, however, many different systems for weighting grades.
Matt Greene, an independent educational consultant and Wilton resident, told the BoE that, “Research does suggest that about 70-percent more schools in the U.S. do use some form of weighting, but there’s no commonly agreed upon best practice or standard for this.” He concluded his presentation to school officials by saying, “In my overall conclusion here, there’s not a clear advantage to weighted grading systems to unweighted.”
Most of the adult experts who spoke to the board did so on behalf of keeping Wilton High School from making changes to the current grading system. Some felt that colleges and universities get an accurate idea of how demanding Wilton’s academic program is without weighting, and they’re able to keep in mind that WHS does not weight from the explanation the school sends with each student’s transcripts and materials.
Others felt that by keeping an unweighted system, students would feel less pressure to pack in more challenging, higher-weighted classes. That argument suggests that in a weighted system, students would turn away from electives and take more demanding–and higher weighted–classes to drive up their rank.
What’s more, others cautioned that a weighted system would intensify the pressure an already overstressed student body.
In general, the experts seemed to agree in their recommendations to the BoE–WHS should not weight grades.
Some students believe that what isn’t being considered, however, is what students feel will benefit them the most. While they need guidance and support from those responsible for educating them, they feel they deserve more of a say in their education.
Senior Rebecca Nisco, a soon-to-be Catholic University of America’s School of Music student, believes after completing four years of high school and experiencing the college application process, that weighting grades is not necessary. “Colleges do it anyway. I think it should only be used when you’re trying to figure out who’s going to be valedictorian because there are so many kids eligible for that,” she says.
On the flip side, sophomore Daniel Saxteen, says higher points are an apt reward, however, for the difficulty of a more rigorous class “I think weighted grades are good because it gives people who are taking harder classes an opportunity to do, and incentivizes them to take that risk.”
His classmate, Isabella Jones, disagrees. “I used to think weighted grades are good because I take a lot of hard classes and will be taking a lot of AP classes next year, but if the student is already in an AP class, they should be at a higher level than most,” [and held to a higher standard], “so why should they get a higher GPA?” she asks.
Grace Schaller, a sophomore explains that she is strongly in favor of WHS adopting weighted grades. “Many job applications ask for GPA. GPA is also a qualification for the National Honor Society, and the current system of unweighted GPAs penalizes students taking harder classes, which is highly unfair.”
Interestingly, many students were opinionated on the topic–but didn’t want to comment using their names. They feared having their names publicly attached to one side of such a controversial issue may negatively influence how certain adults, teachers, peers, and professionals perceive them.
One such freshman who asked to remain anonymous looks at what’s ‘fair’ in arguing in favor of weighting grades. “It’s not fair if a student is taking really hard classes and your A is the same as an A in an ‘easy’ class. Especially if you are taking APs.”
One sophomore says, “Not every student has the intellectual ability to take those upper level classes, so I think it’s better not to weight the grades, the reason being that people who are in the higher classes are trying as hard as they can, and students in typical-level courses are usually trying as hard as they can as well, so it would not be fair. Also colleges unweight the grades anyway, so it would be unnecessary.”
Another student who admits that she hadn’t really considered the topic before, had this to say: “We are given an expectation, and if we are given the expectation to go to more honors and AP level classes, we should get the reward of a weighted GPA. More kids would choose to take them as well. I know I would do that. Instead of taking typical-level classes, I would try to take higher ones.”
Clearly, the issue has complex and ranging arguments with many components and factors. Educators have the difficult responsibility to listen to what researchers say in conjunction with thinking about the well-being of their students and what they want. However, one thing anyone on either side of this argument can hopefully consider, is that the opinions of the students involved should have some sort of “weight” in any decision affecting their education.