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Report traditional cumulative weighted GPAs: ALL grade levels, honors and AP courses

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WE HEREBY SIGN THIS PETITION to urge the PAUSD School Board to:

(1) Vote to weight high school students’ GPAs,

(2) Reject PAUSD’s proposed, unconventional GPA method (recommended at the March 28, 2017 board meeting),

(3) Continue to report the unweighted and the nationally accepted, traditional cumulative weighted (TCW) GPA where:

  • Weights are given for ALL honors and AP classes students take regardless of the students’ grade level (9th, 10th, 11th and 12th)
  • Weights are given to ALL PAUSD and UC-designated honors and AP courses

(4) Instruct staff to report students’ TCW GPAs on transcripts and all scholarship and college applications, including the Common Application and its School Reports,

(5) Make all decisions about high school course titles and submitting courses for UC-honors designations, including whether Chemistry Honors will be submitted for 2017-18, and

(6) Create a task force composed of students, parents, teachers and administrators to consider implementing the suggestions below to help alleviate academic stress and improve student well-being.

BACKGROUND

In the Fall of 2016, the PAUSD school board was asked to place a traditional cumulative weighted (TCW) GPA on high school transcripts to help students qualify for automatic merit scholarships based on strict GPA cut-offs. They approved reporting TCW GPA on transcripts for Paly’s and Gunn’s Class of 2017 seniors.

On March 28, 2017, Dr. McGee recommended that transcripts, starting with the Class of 2018, show the unweighted as well as a different, PAUSD-designed weighted GPA (PAUSD’s proposed GPA). The PAUSD proposed GPA:

  • excludes weighting honors and AP courses 9th graders take and
  • only weights UC-approved honors and AP courses taken by 10-12th graders.

This means any student taking Bio H, Chem H, Geo H or Alg2/Trig H will not get the extra weighted points.

PAUSD’s proposed GPA resembles the UC/CSU GPA method which only gives weight to 10th-12th grade UC-approved honors and AP courses. Paly and Gunn have decided not to seek UC-approval for Chemistry Honors, which means that students taking this class will not get an extra GPA weight at the UC/CSUs and, under PAUSD’s proposed GPA method, will not get that point at Gunn or Paly. For Chem H UC-approval history, see https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9Iga1bBa1KkcnIyOHJSVTAzck0/view

Dr. McGee acknowledges that “there is no research to indicate reporting wGPAs increases student stress” but PAUSD staff fear that class weighting - by the UCs and via the TCW GPA - will prompt some students to take more weighted classes than they can handle and so increase their stress. They are especially concerned about 9th graders transitioning to high school.

These fears seem to be unfounded. Many students reported to the PAUSD School Board that weighting classes reduces their stress, giving them a safety net when they take the challenging courses they want.

Also:

  • Challenge Success found no correlation between stress and the number of advanced classes students take, perhaps because, as the University of Texas researchers Dr. McGee cited in his report and Gunn and Paly’s class enrollment data indicates, weighting GPAs does not prompt students to take more weighted classes than they can handle.
  • Paly’s student school board representative told Dr. McGee and the School Board in March that weighted GPA shouldn't be used as a “scapegoat” for student stress.
  • Gunn’s student school board representative added that not weighting classes for 9th graders will not make their introduction to high school easier.

Dr. McGee’s recommendation and full report can be read here: http://www.boarddocs.com/ca/pausd/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=AK7N455E0390

The problem with PAUSD’s proposed GPA is that it will always be the same or lower than the student’s TCW GPA. Students may lose out on merit scholarships. (Many merit scholarships have strict GPA cut-offs.)

Also, college admission and scholarship officers may easily miss that PAUSD seniors’ 9th grade and 10th grade Honors classes were not weighted. That increases the chances that our seniors, if the PAUSD proposed GPA is used, will be unfairly compared to other high school seniors whose high schools submit their TCW GPA. Weighted GPAs are reported by 74% of high schools in the US. The TCW GPA is reported by PAUSD’s peer high schools, such as the 21st Century Consortium high schools as well as Los Altos, Mountain View, Saratoga, and Los Gatos High Schools.

Having a TCW GPA can make a difference.

OUR POSITION

Therefore, we call for the PAUSD School Board to (i) officially report a TCW GPA on transcripts as well as on all college scholarship and admissions applications, including the Common Application and its School Reports, (ii) require school board direction for high school course titles and UC-honors submissions, and (iii) immediately establish a task force to identify and study student and parent-identified anti-stress suggestions for swift implementation.

OUR RATIONALE

(1) PAUSD’s proposed GPA is a watered-down GPA which can harm students’ chances for merit scholarships and college admissions offers.

In many cases, students’ proposed PAUSD GPAs will be lower than their traditional cumulative weighted GPAs. About half of PAUSD students take at least one Honors course their freshman year. By excluding weights for those 9th grade courses and limiting weighting to only UC-approved 10th through 12 grade Honors and AP courses, as the proposed PAUSD GPA method would do, students who take an excluded course will have a lower weighted GPA than they would have if their TCW GPA is used.

For merit scholarships, colleges’ adherence to strict GPA cut-offs means that even a small GPA point different could mean a big loss in scholarship aid. See “It Could Be You: PAUSD’s Proposed GPA Method Could Cost Families Thousands in Financial Aid” https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9Iga1bBa1KkZnRjZEk1bVVtOWM/view

The cost for four years of attending public institutions can be over $160,000 and $250,000 at private colleges and universities. University of Oregon’s Summit and Apex merit scholarships are worth $36,000 and $16,000 respectively. University of Colorado Boulder’s Presidential and Chancellors’ scholarships are $55,000 and $25,000.

For college admissions, key factors are the students’ coursework and grades/GPA. At least half of the colleges do not recalculate GPAs. They take the GPA the high school places on the transcript and application.

(2) PAUSD’s proposed GPA method is unfair. It does not allow 9th graders who are taking Honors classes with older students to earn the weights that their classmates are awarded.

For example, 9th graders enrolled in a Language 3H class (i.e. Spanish immersion students taking Spanish 3H) will be graded more harshly than the 10th -12th graders they sit next to in that class who are doing the same work for a weighted grade. This is an automatic 20% grade reduction just for being in 9th grade.

Why should the grade you get depend on how old you are?

(3) Course names and weights should be decided by the School Board to ensure uniformity and public notice since they affect college scholarships and admissions.

  • Two-thirds of PAUSD seniors apply to at least one UC campus (~ 600 PAUSD seniors each year). 
  • The UCs and CSUs place considerable weight on students’ GPAs when making admissions decisions and automatically weight applicants' GPAs, adding an extra point for the AP and UC-approved honors classes they have taken for both Eligibility in the Local Context (guaranteed admissions) and general admissions purposes.
  • PAUSD students’ UC acceptance rates over the last two decades have fallen. For more PAUSD UC acceptance details, please see “UC Admissions Historical Data” https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9Iga1bBa1Kkdm5IYjJrQVUxYXc/view

At the March school board meeting, Dr. McGee suggested moving the decision of which courses are submitted to the UCs for honors weighting approval from the high schools to the school board to ensure uniformity. Other colleges, he said, also note with favor courses marked “H” on a student’s transcript.

PAUSD Board policies give the School Board the authority to decide “whether extra grade weighting will be assigned for honors courses” and invite students and the community to participate in the development of curriculum/courses of study that the School Board is asked to adopt.

Moving these decisions to the school board will give students and the community advanced notice and an opportunity to give input on course name changes and the UC weighting option, both of which impact students’ scholarship and college admissions chances at the UCs/CSUs and elsewhere.

(4) PAUSD’s proposed GPA method does not mitigate student stress.

After reading the recent Center for Disease Control (CDC)’s Epi-Aid 2016-018 Report on PAUSD students’ well-being, Santa Clara County Public Health Director Dr. Sarah Cody said that “the evidence doesn’t support a laser focus on schools.” See [1].

Challenge Success’ published research results do not show a correlation between the number of advanced classes students take and stress and end with this advice to schools: do not limit students’ access to those classes (and do not place a cap on them). See [2].

Yet Dr. McGee remains concerned: “If . . our 2017-18 data show we have had an increase in mental health issues [because of our weighted GPAs], that students are changing course taking patterns to enroll in fewer electives and more Honors/AP classes, that they are spending more time on homework and/or less time sleeping, I will not hesitate to recommend a cap [on the number of weighted classes included in students’ GPAs]”

It is unlikely that these things -- increase in stress and decrease in electives enrollment and sleep for example -- will happen when Paly joins Gunn by weighting GPAs too since, on these measures, data shows that Gunn students are the same or better than their Paly peers. At the time this data was collected, Gunn weighted GPAs and Paly did not. For details, see “PAUSD Challenge Success Survey Results” https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9Iga1bBa1KkSjhGLVlXenlPVkk/view

To move the needle on students stress, PAUSD instead should focus on students’ Challenge Success survey responses and parent suggestions on what could mitigate academic stress.

Areas of Academic Stress and Solutions to be Studied and Considered for Implementation

Homework:

  • Assign less homework at both high schools (#1 student recommendation).
  • Provide opportunities to complete homework during school.
  • Allow limited late passes.
  • Make some homework optional.
  • Return graded homework and labs earlier and always before testing.

Testing:

  • Keep level of difficulty of tests consistent with material covered in class and provide sample exams with answer keys for practice.
  • Review graded exams in class (since tutorial is being eliminated).
  • Re-teach material students did not test well on (again since there won’t be tutorial).
  • Avoid test stacking.

Grading:

  • Return graded exams promptly.
  • Drop the worst test score (other than midterms and finals).
  • Do not grade on bell curve.
  • Allow partial credit for students who correct their test mistakes.

Scheduling:

  • Hold a “course introduction and sampling” day before enrollment forms are due to help students make informed course selections. Include 8th graders.
  • Simplify class change process by having department Instructional Supervisors hold “Schedule-a-Rama” end of first week of school.
  • Extend deadlines for students to drop and switch lanes for any reason without penalty.
  • Ensure student-athletes receive G period prep/PE.

Other:

  • Provide students with more teacher support and communication (i.e. strive to provide clear goals and immediate feedback).
  • Allow students dropping a lane a fresh start with a grade based on the makeup work they complete. (Don’t require them to carry over their grade from the harder class.)
  • Keep the academic center open longer for students.

In addition, there are many other school-related sources of stress that Dr. McGee can immediately address, such as sports-related stress from balancing academics with up to 20 hours a week in practices and matches and students missing not only G period but also portions of A and F period classes on days that they have at-home and away matches.

REFERENCES

[1] “CDC Report: Youth Suicide Rates in Santa Clara County,” San Jose Mercury, March 3, 2017

[2] Challenge Success, “The Advanced Placement Program” White Paper, 2013



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