Written by Clara Kieschnick-Llamas
On Tuesday, Nov. 1, the Palo Alto Unified School District Board decided to report weighted grade point averages (GPAs) on mid-year transcripts for current seniors.
Over the past few weeks, there have been heated debates over the positives and negative effects of reporting weighted GPAs on student transcripts. Gunn used weighted grades, whereas Palo Alto High School (Paly) didn’t. The school board and the Superintendent wanted to have a uniform system across the district.
Although universities tend to look at students’ transcripts, not just their GPAs, when it comes to college admissions, Gunn’s School Board Representative senior Ankit Ranjan argued that weighted GPAs are important when it comes to applying for some scholarships. “Having a higher number gives you better opportunities,” he said. “And because colleges are trending toward ignoring the GPA, [Gunn] might as well give students the advantage to have the opportunities.”
An argument against weighted grades is that students will only take a course because it will boost their GPA, not because they are genuinely interested in the subject. Although Superintendent Max McGee is not opposed to weighted grades, he doesn’t want a system that encourages students to take a class just for the grade. “What I am opposed to is a system that has unintended consequences of becoming a de facto ranking system for students, that contributes to an already competitive environment, and has the potential of discouraging students from taking electives for intellectual curiosity and taking classes instead that would boost their weighted grade point average,” he said.
A source of worry is that weighted grades would affect low-income students unfavorably, due to the fact that, according to McGee, there are fewer low-income students taking Advanced Placement (AP) and honors courses. Reporting weighted grades across the district would widen the gap in GPAs. To combat this, School Board Member Melissa Baten Caswell hopes to set up study groups for these students, as well as create support systems for students who have more difficulty taking harder courses. “If you come into ninth grade and you believe you don’t have the support to take these classes, then you’re not going to sign up for them,” she said.
Paly senior Joëlle Dong started an online petition against weighted GPAs. She argued that humanities students are more disadvantaged when it comes to weighted grades. “Every non-weighted elective, including journalism, theatre and art, will bring our weighted GPAs down,” she wrote in the petition statement. “Our schools offer more weighted classes in the [Science Technology Engineering Mathematics] STEM fields, so weighted GPAs inadvertently disadvantage humanities students.”
According to Caswell, there are actually a similar number of humanities AP courses as there are STEM AP courses, but they are mostly clustered around the world languages. “I would like to see some more [high-level humanities] classes,” Caswell said. “So there may be some recommendation that [McGee] will make to add more honors and AP classes.”