PAUSD to stop counting off-campus courses toward GPA

Art by Sophia Kelly
Art by Sophia Kelly

As a result of administrative discussions following a lawsuit won by parents regarding PAUSD math placement, Superintendent Don Austin said PAUSD will no longer factor third-party off-campus courses into official grade point average calculations starting next school year.

“Given the math lawsuit, we had a look at all of our policies,” Austin said. “When we were in there, everyone looked at each other and said, ‘Well, if we’re fixing these other things, why don’t we fix this one?’ That’s how we got here.”

Principal Brent Kline said discussions have been happening for a while within the district, and he thinks the change is a good one. 

“I’ve only been in two other districts besides this one,” Kline said. “This is the first district in my experience that I have seen outside courses being placed on a transcript for your high school.”

Austin said PAUSD administration unanimously agreed on the change, which will impact both Gunn and Paly.

“It’s rare to find a topic where we have agreement from everyone involved,” Austin said. “Some families might not like it because it was a way (for) people to artificially boost grades in the past, but we have both schools’ administrations, instructional leads, counselors and registrars all on the same page.”

Besides leveling the playing field for grades, Austin said the basis for this change is curriculum differences between PAUSD and off-campus courses.

“Students have the ability to artificially raise their GPA by taking courses that are not as rigorous as the Paly courses,” Austin said. “A student who sits in an Algebra 2 class at Paly is taking a harder class than a kid who’s taking Algebra 2 through an online program.”

And Kline said off-campus courses could misrepresent students’ high school experience. 

“It’s important to maintain (a) transcript (that) reflects you as a student and your experience here at Palo Alto High School,” Kline said. “When you start incorporating other courses, outside courses that can be done in a shorter amount of time, that skews the data and doesn’t accurately picture your (high school) experience.” 

Some exceptions exist to the new policy, including dual enrollment classes approved by PAUSD and taught by a PAUSD teacher; credit recovery courses when a student did not earn an A, B or C in the original course; and language courses Paly does not offer.

“The change is effective (immediately following graduation this year),” Austin said. “If you already have the credit and the GPA on your transcript, it stays. We’re not going to change the rules on you retroactively.”

Austin said students can still demonstrate additional mastery of off-campus classes even with the changes.

“You can still take a UC Scout class, for example,” Austin said. “Up to four of thosecan be on your transcript, and you will be able to see the (class) title. However, they will no longer calculate into your GPA. Anything above and beyond those four classes, you can still submit your own transcript to whatever university you’re applying to. They just won’t appear on your (PAUSD) transcript, and you won’t earn credit for them.”

Senior Calvin Wong said he thinks the new policy is the right one.

“I know a lot of people at our school are using (off-campus class) to inflate their GPA,” Wong said. “It’s unfair because it’s pretty easy to cheat, and the courses are much easier than Palo Alto courses, so it’s giving them an unfair advantage.”

Junior Max Yeh agrees.

“It’s a good decision because there are many people who are unable to take these online courses, and it puts them at a disadvantage for college applications,” Yeh said. 

However, senior Megha Madhabhushi disagrees with the district’s decision. She said it limits students’ ability to demonstrate their knowledge.

“It’s really unreasonable for them to take away something that has been offered thus far,” Madhabhushi said. “It really is a disadvantage for kids who can’t fit APs into their schedule or cannot manage the Paly AP combination on campus. Taking courses off-campus allows for a lot of flexibility and makes it an easier option for students.”

In addition to allowing students to explore different classes, Madhabhushi said she thinks having off-campus courses count toward students’ GPA matters.

“The whole point of taking a course off-campus is that you still want it to be counted toward your GPA because that does help you in the long run for colleges,” Madhabhushi said. “The content is still learned, and the rigor shouldn’t make a difference as the kids are still learning, and that is what’s most important.”

Ultimately, Austin said the district is taking the right action and making PAUSD’s classes more fair.

“We’re not necessarily endorsing (off-campus classes), but we’re definitely not in the business of blocking them,” Austin said. “There is only change of real substance: leveling the field for GPA calculation.”


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