High School Looks to Eliminate Valedictorian, Weighted GPAs

by | Dec 13, 2018

By Elizabeth F. McNamara

East Greenwich High School is looking to upend the long-time practice of picking the two seniors with the highest GPAs as valedictorian and salutatorian, replacing it with an application process, starting for the Class of 2023 (this year’s 8th graders). Together with that, the school would stop using weighted GPAs – those that give extra points for honors and AP course work.

The changes are an attempt to de-escalate the competitive, stress-driven system now in place.  

“It’s not that what we’re doing now is wrong. It’s that I think we can do it better,” said Principal Mike Podraza in a recent interview. “What we’re hearing from students who are stressed is, they’re making decisions based on the impact to their GPA, not about what they’re interested in, not what they’re curious about.”

East Greenwich High School

In terms of what colleges are looking for, Podraza said there are a lot of different approaches. Some look at unweighted GPA, some don’t. Some look at core subject grades, some look at what electives a student has taken.

“We can’t create a perfect system that works with each college,” he said. “What is our moral compass telling us? We want students to be intrinsically motivated. We want students to be interested. So, we see the weighted GPA interfering with that and that’s something we have control over.”

These changes need the approval of the School Committee. Podraza outlined his proposals at the School Committee meeting Dec. 4, and the panel will take it up again at their meeting Tuesday, Dec. 18.

Podraza stressed these changes would not affect current EGHS students. In terms of GPA, the school already sends both weighted and unweighted GPAs to colleges. For the Class of 2023, the school would only calculate unweighted GPAs.

Barrington High School, against which EGHS is often compared, does not use weighted GPA and it also does not chose graduation speakers by GPA ranking (as in valedictorian and salutatorian).

What Podraza is looking to do for graduation speakers is to have a committee of faculty and students chose graduation speakers based on applications submitted by those students interested in speaking.

“There are lots of students with powerful things to say,” he said.

Under Podraza’s proposal, one graduation speaker would be chosen by the faculty members of the committee, one would be chosen by the students on the committee, and a third speaker would be chosen by the whole committee.

With one extra student speaker, Podraza acknowledged that the graduation ceremony might need some reorganizing, in terms of the number of speakers or length of speeches. The fact that EGHS has, essentially, two special graduation ceremonies –graduation itself but also Ivy Day, a ceremony for seniors on the Friday before graduation – could help with that.

“Between those two days, there’s some room to evolve,” he said.

Instead of only two students being singled out for academic achievement, under the proposed changes, EGHS would adopt the collegiate cum laude honor system, with students in the top GPA range achieving the summa cum laude distinction and students in a tier below that achieving the magna cum laude distinction.

“We’re not throwing GPA out, we still value GPA, we still value students academic success as measured by GPA,” Podraza said. Cum laude designation would be given to all students who have demonstrated learning – “regardless of subject matter, regardless of what the class is called, or even if a certain discipline offers AP courses.”

In other words, a student who gets high grades but is not taking AP or honors courses will still be eligible for the cum laude designation.

Podraza rejected the suggestion this could be viewed as the academic equivalent of “trophy for all.” 

“I see our students working hard. I would challenge people who say that to take a look at the accomplishments of our students and tell me which one of these accomplishments don’t deserve to be recognized, don’t deserve high accolades and praise.”

Ultimately, he said, “We are looking to devise a system to be more geared toward the outcome of learning.”

The School Committee will take up the EGHS Program of Studies for 2019-20 – including these changes – at their meeting Tuesday, Dec. 18, 7 p.m. in the library at Cole Middle School.


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12 Comments

  1. KJ

    This is the worst idea in education I have heard in some time. It is a race to the bottom and a way to reward the lowest common denominator. EGHS is an academic institution first and foremost. Certainly it has other tenets as part of the mission but first and foremost the education of our children is paramount. The recognition of accademic achievement and excellence must be preserved. This proposed change is reminiscent of organized youth sports programs offering “participation trophies” to all team members and avoiding recognition of those athletes who excel at the game. If the goal is a communal feel good neutrality where everyone works on a team with no motivation for indivdual achievement and success then we accomplish that with this plan. I do not believe the success of technological advances in all fields from medicine to communication to transportation has been achieved through mediocrity, but by the great tradition of personal drive and ambition.
    Let’s not water down the individual merit based system that has made this country such a success with a plan more reflective of the failed communist systems.

    Reply
  2. Celia Schnacky

    Using ASPEN puts way too much focus on grades–for kids and for parents. Teachers let kids know how they’re doing every day. Parents and kids should be able to communicate about that. Midquarter grades should be enough.

    Reply
  3. Mark J Thompson

    What’s next? Trophies for every kid on the soccer team?

    Reply
  4. Pat Young

    Has anyone considered viewing class rank from the college-admissions office? The proposed idea is very confusing. Yes, 40% of schools do not rank and that is ok, but the idea presented here needs work and refinement to say the least Many scholarships are tied to the GPA also. Perhaps a step back to investigate Best Practices relating to this idea is in order.

    The class speaker idea seems reasonable but that too needs further investigation. Believe me, there will be much competition around who will speak as the process presented seems rife with logistical problems.

    Pat Young, former counselor at East Greenwich High School

    Reply
  5. EG Resident

    Obviously, EGHS administrators had enough that too many EG students want to take Honors and AP courses. It is a great idea to solve administrator’s headache by discouraging the students taking Honors and AP courses. Students have advantage to take the easiest course under the unweighted GPA system. Someone just show me a Barrington High School transcript. The GPA is higher than 4.0. If Barrington uses unweighted GPA, why this student’s GPA is higher than 4.0? Please note, the highest unweighted GPA is 4.0.

    Reply
  6. Ann

    The dumbing down of America. What happened to rewarding hard work and dedication with an honor? I also believe in recognizing the top student in each area of study. These awards are something to strive for.

    Reply
  7. Blue

    Many kids are not intrinsically motivated. That is just a fact. As most colleges and universities weigh GPA heavily when considering a candidate, I believe this is just the carrot that most kids need. In a perfect world I would agree with Mr. Podraza but it is just not realistic. Lastly, I feel we are doing the students a disservice. Once these kids get out in to the real world, they need to realize not everyone gets the promotion/job/bonus. These are all earned by hard work and yes, in many instances competition. Life is hard, we need to teach our kids real life skills so that they can be successful.

    Reply
  8. Christian roos

    I think the answer to abolish a weighted GPA system because students are not taking classes in what they are interested in but what helps yheir GPA is a fallacy. In reality students always have chosen a mix of what they are interested in and what they are good at ( or can get more “points” in ) and that can be a difficult balance but for what reasons ? We have to have certain standards, so you have to take those subjects and you can combine that with what you like to take and more likely than not are better at.
    You can advise kids on what mix is best and offer more classes in advanced subjects (! Omg, did I say more honors classes could be the solution ???) Which the students have more choices of their desired subjects ( and where they are better at !).
    So, not meddling with differenciation and making everything ‘same’ is the answer but the opposite!!! More AP. So that more students find their favorite subject in AP classes …
    Worth a thought ?

    Reply
  9. Carla Swanson

    As a parent of a college sophomore who was accepted to a selective college not because of her GPA but because she had an interesting high school experience, throughout which she was allowed the freedom to experientially explore interests (at a charter school) and a 7th grader who may or may not be EGHS class of 2024, I applaud this move. I have no interest in subjecting my kid to five hours of homework a night, eliminating time to dive deep into an extracurricular, or watching her struggle with AP classes she’s taking not because she’s passionate about the subject, but because she’s worried about measuring up in the college acceptance game.

    Reply
  10. Russ

    Should they have AP band? How about AP art, shop, home ec, chorus, drama, phys ed? Do we value those subjects less? Should “gifted” students avoid them to keep up their GPA?

    I say good riddance class rank. Let’s promote the joy of learning. I’m guessing Harvard will still be there.

    Reply
  11. Joe

    I think people are mis directing their anger/frustrations and are missing the bigger picture.

    Take a breath and think about this.

    Who runs the AP program?
    The College Board

    Who profits from the AP courses?
    The College Board

    Why is this organization making so much money off of our students education?
    I hate to break this to everyone but the College Board is a pyramid scheme. They make their profits by trapping as many colleges into their pyramid as possible, and those colleges help the College Board to profit by forcing high schools and their students to join the pyramid.

    I would implore parents and students to do some research on the AP before blindly signing up for a class.
    Maybe start here,
    https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/10/ap-classes-are-a-scam/263456/
    I found this quite eye opening. And when I continued down the rabbit hole of research it only gets worse.

    Educate yourself before you complain.

    Reply
  12. EG Parent

    As a parent of a high school student, I support opening up the graduation speaker to the top ranked students as there is little distinction among the the GPA of top ranked students. However, I am opposed elimination of GPA weighting of more difficult honors and AP courses as I believe many of these courses help students to build their resumes, to get jobs in the summer and prepare them for college and employment thereafter, which is beneficial to employers, students and colleges alike. I want my student to want to work hard and to have a standardized GPA incentive to do so. In short order, he will compete with many other students around the country on GPA, SATs etc. While not every student will participate in every honor or AP course, that is okay; there is still substantial benefit that comes from striving to give their best effort academically if a student so chooses to do so. The “best effort” will be different for each student and there is reason to celebrate non honors academic success, and simultaneously celebrate the tradition of honor’s academic success. This is a school, and a school is a place where high academic achievement should be rewarded. The two tracks can and have co-existed as a standard for decades. The GPA has always been an incentive, a measure of proficiency for high school students. The elimination of weighting will essentially consolidate the two tracks into one track, which will send a message to students that if you work twice as many hours in an honors course as a peer student in the nonhonors in the other course, then you will receive the same compensation, where your GPA is a form of compensation. That’s like paying two teenagers by the hour to rake leaves; one works 10 hours and the other works 5 hours. They both receive the same pay. It would be reasonable for the teenager who worked 10 hours to receive a fair wage more than the teenager who worked 5 hours.

    AP and Honors courses are “optional”, generally based on past grades and teacher recommendations. Not weighting honors and AP courses in the GPA is not fair to the many students who require a challenge and thus “make the academic commitment” and sacrifice, by choice, to put in the EXTRA TIME to complete AP and Honors courses, and learn valuable subjects in the process, while increasing chances of success in college/life, helping families pay for college and saving valuable time and money by receiving college credit in the case of AP. Many families cannot afford the full cost of a 4 year college which is averaging in the neighborhood of $240,000 per child. As a result, those students and families hope to receive some merit assistance based on what matters most to colleges. The net result of this experiment will be less money for EG students for colleges, the money will go to other town’s students and substantially higher student debt which will make life more difficult for students, potentially robbing them of the American dream to purchase house or start a family for many years.

    The fact is that many extensive studies have been conducted already. According to The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), as republished by CollegeData, “What Matters Most to Colleges” found that the Top Factors of Considerable Importance were:

    1. Grades in college prep courses. … “Most colleges will consider your performance in college preparatory courses the strongest sign of your ability to do well in college. ”

    2. Strength of curriculum. … “Colleges look for students who took the most challenging courses available to them. ”

    3. Admission test scores. … Your SAT and/or ACT scores usually count highly if the college requires them. Scores from SAT Subject Tests, AP tests, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) exams may also be important, especially to more selective colleges.

    4. Grades in all courses. … “Your overall GPA also serves as an indicator of your academic success in high school. ”

    Top Factors of Moderate Importance

    5. Extracurricular commitment. …
    6. Letters of recommendation. …
    7. Essay or writing sample. …
    8. Demonstrated interest.
    9. Class rank

    Student loan debt is at the highest that it has ever been in this nation. Our students need the courses that will help prepare them for college, to help them get money to reduce the amount of loans that need to borrow and to get good jobs that will pay off these loans. This is the reality of the situation.

    I truly hope that the leaders of our school system recognize that

    Reply

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