Cries of elation filled a crowded room in the back of the District office as the Palo Alto Board of Education agreed to adopt weighted grades for all future students.
The decision, seven months in the making, received much hearty debate late into the night at the Tuesday Board meeting. Most of the dispute surrounded whether or not to weight freshman grades.
At a previous board meeting, Superintendent Max McGee recommended that freshman grades should not be weighted, arguing that freshman year is a time for adjustment and incoming students should not feel pressure to take Advanced Placement (AP) or honors classes before they are ready. This has been controversial in the community for some time, with the majority of the school board, many faculty members at the high schools and some parents expressing support for McGee’s recommendation.
However, a minority of the school board and many parents had concerns that refusing to weight freshman grades would be unfair to those taking advanced classes as freshmen, some of whom enrolled in classes that would be weighted if they were in any other grade.
At a previous meeting the student Board representative from Gunn, Ankit Ranjan, spoke out in favor of weighting freshman grades and brought up many of the concerns that were voiced at the most recent Board meeting. However, after he learned that Career Technical Education (CTE) enrollment is down for the next school year and he talked to students and faculty and had a change of heart.
“I had to very critically re-examine [weighted GPA’s} when students were coming to me about enrollment issues,” Ranjan said. “From what I’ve heard about the eighth grade interest in taking honors courses for next year [from the Gunn administration] it seems that the weighted GPA issue is also important and also consequential in determining which courses students take in freshman year.”
At the meeting on Tuesday, McGee took time to address concerns about his recommendation. He pointed out that the GPA boost most freshmen would receive is inconsequential and argued that “the increase in academic pressure, competition, homework, and stress [weighting freshman year courses] would add to the current cultural pressures of our high schools would be deleterious to the health and well-being of more students.”
“Doing the mathematics we see that if a student takes two [weighted] courses freshman year, that’s a difference of .08 on the final weighted cumulative grade,” McGee said. “It is erroneous to think that that would make a difference on college admissions. Will 0.08 impact a student’s scholarship [opportunities]? Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. We have not heard of any [scholarships with margins that] narrow, but if it were we would take significant efforts to intervene at the school.”
However, opinions varied. Board member Todd Collins stated that he felt not weighting freshman grades would discourage students from taking challenging courses and that is not what he, as a Board member, should support. Collins also pointed out that grade reporting is only a small part of a much larger conversation regarding student stress.
“GPA reporting is a tiny, tiny, part of that equation and we’re making a mountain out of that tiny tiny mole hill,” Collins said. “It’s like we’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope and we’re focusing on this little tiny piece when there’s a whole range of things that drive why students and parents choose certain courses and what creates stress about them.”
Ultimately the Board decided not to weight freshman grades with Board President Terry Godfrey, Board Vice-President Ken Dauber, Board member Jennifer DiBrienza as well as the two student Board representatives David Tayeri and Ankit Ranjan voting against weighting freshman grades.
With the recommendation that the board eventually approved, in addition to weighting all honors and AP courses designated as honors in the high school’s course catalouges, the District agreed to create a process to review the status of honors courses in the grade book and advocate for the UC system to approve the honors statues of chemistry honors.
Despite the already lengthy process the board has taken to approve weighted GPA, the saga will continue. Part of the approved recommendation tasks the District with creating a team to evaluating weighted grades in 2019 and every year after that for at least three years.