It is not uncommon to walk into any “honors” course at Paly and hear the same question being echoed — “is this class weighted?”
University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) schools weight high school courses by assigning an extra grade point average (GPA) point to courses that have been approved for extra honors credit. Thus, an A in an honors class would get a student a grade point of five in that course, while an A in an unweighted class would get the student a grade point of four.
This system is in place to reward students for their academic rigor — the more challenging classes a student takes, the higher their weighted GPA becomes. Weighted GPA is among the most important factors considered by college admissions officers, compelling many students to take weighted courses.
According to the University of California website, high school honors classes are “defined as [courses] specifically designed by the school with distinctive features which sets [them] apart from regular high school courses in the same discipline areas.” In Paly’s course catalog, the claim is made that “honors course expectations are significantly greater than in our standard program.”
Why then, do half of these honors courses not apply for weighted credit for UCs and CSUs? If Paly truly makes a curricular distinction between honors and regular courses, then most, if not all, should apply for weighted credit.
The implication behind the term “honors” is what drives many students to take these higher level courses — students will tend to choose courses based on how appealing their choices make them to colleges. However, of the 14 classes that Paly designates as “honors” courses, only seven are in fact weighted by UCs and CSUs: Analysis Honors, Physics Honors, English 11H, French 3H, Spanish 3H, Japanese 4H and Theatre 4H.
The University of California’s website also states that honors level courses must have established prerequisites, a comprehensive written final exam, collegiate-level curricula and must be designed for 11th and 12th graders. Paly’s main shortcoming among these requirements is the last one — weighted courses must be designed for upperclassmen but some are meant to be taken by underclassmen.
However, this requirement is not universal, as is evidenced by French 3H and Spanish 3H, classes taken predominantly by 10th graders, being weighted.
such as Monta Vista High School, Lynbrook High School and the other high schools in the Fremont Union High District all have weighted Chemistry Honors classes, despite that they are taken primarily by 10th graders.
There is no need for courses that are not weighted to be hidden under the guise of “honors” classes — they can just be denoted as “accelerated” or “advanced” as many non-weighted classes such as English 10A already are.
Sophomore Timothy Liu agrees that calling classes that are not weighted “honors” builds confusion.
“’Advanced’ classes are more appropriate names for lanes that are simply more difficult,” Liu said. “Honors classes should be weighted because the name directly proposes the fact that the class offers a degree of difficulty above and beyond even the ‘advanced’ lane, so UCs and CSUs should reward students in those lanes with weighted grades.”
The lack of weighted courses provided at Paly is also troubling. Advanced courses at Paly are not eligible for UC and CSU weighted credit because the curriculum does not meet the standards for weighted classes.
Senior Mane Mikayelyan, who attends Monta Vista High School believes that if there were honors classes at Monta Vista that were not weighted, students would refrain from taking them.
“It wouldn’t help their GPAs but would be extra work,” Mikayelyan said. “A huge motivating factor in taking harder classes is the safety cushion that if you get a B it will still look like an A in terms of [grade] points. Without that, people wouldn’t want to do extra work and not get any special advantage from it.”
Junior Gigi Rojahn reflects on her experience taking Chemistry Honors as an overall negative one, worsened by the fact that the course is not weighted.
“Chemistry was a hard subject for me and when I didn’t get the grade I wanted, I felt frustrated because I knew that if I had taken regular chem, I would have gotten the grade I wanted,” Rojahn said. “I took it because I wanted to be challenged, but when I did poorly because the class was a lot harder than I expected, I was frustrated because I knew that the fact that it was honors would not improve my grade [because it wasn’t weighted].”
This leads to more dilution in the courses provided at Paly, and overall discontent. The line between regular and advanced lane classes becomes increasingly blurred, and students seeking truly challenging and advanced classes do not get them. By not holding honors classes to the standard mandated by UCs and CSUs, the distinction between honors and regular lane classes becomes less pronounced.
Paly should stop giving simply advanced, nonweighted classes the title of “honors”. Instead, it should attempt to have these classes be weighted by UCs, and if the classes aren’t allowed to be so, they should be simple called “accelerated or advanced”.