Weighted grades have become a hot button issue for both high schools in Palo Alto. In fact, at the board meeting on Oct. 18, all the seats were filled and it was a standing room only audience.
Both schools now report unweighted grade point averages (GPA) on students’ transcripts, but there is one major difference. Gunn counselors may also report weighted GPAs if a student requests it. That results in a “bump” in their grades if they have taken honors or Advanced Placement (AP) classes. For example, if a student received an “A” in an AP or honors class, they would receive a 5.0 rather than a 4.0 in that class, ultimately raising their grade point average.
On the other hand, Palo Alto High School does not offer this option and this has created the controversy. Both schools have to be aligned and the topic has been hotly debated.
Paly Principal Kim Diorio said there should be alignment between the district’s two high schools when it comes to unweighted grades. She believes that because of the small number of students affected and the negative mental health effects of weighted grades, neither high school should report weighted grades. Roughly 12 years ago, Diorio was a guidance counselor at Gunn and she said she noticed flaws in Gunn’s weighting system even then.
“When you are weighting grades, you are unintentionally creating a ranking system based on the courses that students take,” Diorio said. “Weighted grades benefit the top 10, 20 percent of the students in our school. If you’re not in that top 10, weighted grades work against you.”
With the new Wellness Center in place and Sources of Strength, a program designed to create a safe learning environment at Paly and Gunn, administration and the community have done what they can to support mental health in the district. Diorio said weighted grades steer students away from classes they are interested into classes that give them more credit, creating more stress.
“Students start selecting courses based on the additional credit, so what happens in high schools that go to weighted grades is that they don’t usually have the electives,” Diorio said. “Things like pathway programs, or media arts programs would be nothing [if we had weighted grades].”
Paly senior Maya Katz disagrees. Earlier this year, Katz encountered an obstacle with her application for a scholarship at the University of Oregon. Because of Paly’s unweighted grades policy and a few other deciding factors, she was unable to get a $36,000 Apex scholarship. She said many district officials are ignoring student voice in this debate.
“The students at Paly and Gunn are the only students that can vouch for the stress that they are feeling,” Katz said. “There’s no admin, parent or staff that can vouch for how we are feeling about our grades or our grades being weighted.”
In addition, Gunn students were especially agitated about the district’s proposal to remove the option to weight their GPAs. Gunn senior Asaf Katzir uses a personal story to enhance his support and advocacy behind keeping weighted grades.
Katzir and two of siblings will be in college next year. His family would not be able to pay for college costs for all three children without the help of financial aid. However, because of Gunn’s policy on weighted grades, Katzir was able to receive a scholarship with full tuition.
“Considering the fact that many students need to take out loans, this isn’t just an issue for four years. It’s an issue for the rest of their lives,” Katzir said. “I do believe the board should wait on making a decision and take in a lot of student input and make sure to make the right decision.”
Members of the Board of Education have split opinions on the topic. Camille Townsend, a board member in her third term, said weighted GPAs should be available to students on their transcripts. She praised the students and parents who voiced their opinions and shared their stories.
“I think everybody should have the weighted grades on their transcript if that makes it easier,” Townsend said. “I’m ready to help our kids, get their scholarships and get their admissions.”
Due to the board policy of having two meetings before any action can occur, the Board will be revisit and vote on the issue of weighted grades on Nov. 1.