Weighing in on weighted classes


art by Audrey Allison

Holden Foreman, web editor

When student-selected speaker Gina Woodard, health teacher, took the podium for the annual Gold K Ceremony April 24, she thanked “the smart kids” for selecting her. After acknowledging her less-than-stellar high school GPA (to some more-than-cliche laughter) Woodard explained why relationships outweigh any amount of 4.5’s on a report card.

Your class rank won’t join in for car karaoke, won’t say when your shoes match your dress and won’t always have your back, Woodard said. Then, she expressed her admiration for student’s achievements outside of class. After a friend from high school passed away, Woodard noted the sheer compassion between her former classmates; no one remembered anyone’s grades.

Woodard’s speech highlighted the disproportionate emphasis on GPA at KHS. The only problem? Less than half of the class of 2017 heard her message. Two hundred sixty-four more seniors did not receive invitations to the ceremony because, of course, one must earn a 3.5 GPA for a Gold K.

Don’t get me wrong. KHS should recognize exceptional GPA’s just as baseball players recognize exceptional batting averages. But KHS should also recognize GPA’s for what they are: numbers. In baseball, the player with the highest batting average may never win a World Series. Likewise, A higher GPA does not make one student smarter or more capable than another. At the Gold K ceremony, KHS staff regarded award recipients as the best of the best simply because they received the best GPA’s.

Over-glorification of the Gold K reflects an underlying issue at KHS: weighted classes. The current scoring system rewards students for stacking a schedule with as many AP (weighted on a 4.5 scale) and honors (weighted on a 4.3 scale) courses as possible to drag their cumulative GPAs beyond the 4.0 one would receive for straight A’s in “normal” classes. Students can further manipulate the system with pass-fail online courses that do not affect GPA. But such courses do not cover material as extensively, limiting students’ access to applicable knowledge. And to make matters worse, a student whose GPA exceeds 4.0 can take an IP instead of a normally weighted class and achieve a higher GPA for spending less time in class.

Wait. What?

It turns out straight A’s in Introduction to Engineering Design or Art Fundamentals will bring a top-ranked student’s GPA down closer to 4.0, while an IP leaves no impact. Such a system discourages a broad education during adolescence. If anything, students should receive maximum incentives to explore different interests as high schoolers. Weighted classes create a system incentivizing the exact opposite; teenagers shape their daily schedules in adherence to a numerical hierarchy that reflects neither student interest in nor application of the info they cram.

In AP psychology—a “GPA-boosting” class that covers only one semester’s worth of material in a year—we define learned helplessness as “the act of giving up trying as a result of consistent failure to be rewarded in life, thought to be a cause of depression.” When students immerse themselves in stressful coursework to improve class rank, the solely GPA-based system can blind them to the relationships Woodard reveres and to the classes that develop true passions.

If KHS removed weighted classes entirely, students could select schedules based on academic interests rather than interests in awards and college acceptance. Class rank can stay. But when two students with straight A’s receive different rankings simply because of the classes they took (or didn’t take), the system crumbles.

Sure, the “smart kids” might complain about doing more work for the same GPA in accelerated courses, but maybe the knowledge gleaned from such courses will help them realize how little importance GPA holds. Based on the response to senior projects this year, “normal” classes offer more challenge than students may assume.