Classes of Equal Weight: Understanding the Decision to Not Weight Grades at QHS

  • Public schools and parents have long debated whether or not more rigorous classes should receive extra weight when a student’s grade-point average is calculated. Advocates for a weighted grading system often point to it as a way to recognize students who challenge themselves, while opponents worry that inflated grades may discourage students from having a more balanced and diverse educational experience. Queensbury High School encourages students to select a rigorous course load, but it considers all classes to be of equal weight.

    Queensbury High School most recently reviewed the issue of weighted grades during the 2013-14 school year, with administrators, guidance counselors and teachers all taking part in the process. They considered educational research, college enrollment data and parent feedback as well as results from a High School Counseling Center survey of national colleges and universities. This extensive review of the merits and disadvantages of such a system eventually led to the decision to consider all classes equally.

    Aiming for Well-rounded, Successful Students
    When calculating grade point averages, about half of the schools in the country give extra points to honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Regents classes. The result sometimes pushes the GPAs of students who take those courses higher than 4.0 — the standard maximum. But not all weighted GPAs are the same.

    “If you go to a high school that gives an extra .5 for an AP class you may have a GPA of 4.1 and have one of the top GPAs. But if your school gives an extra 6 points for an AP class, that 4.1 GPA may put you in the middle of your class,” observed Todd Johnson, founder of CollegeAdmissionsPartners.com.

    A student looks at her art notebook For some educators and parents, awarding higher GPAs based on the academic rigor of a course is about ensuring students challenge themselves academically. They worry that a lack of weighting discourages students from participating in advanced courses and programs. This concern is based on the erroneous perception that an ‘easy A’ in a standard level class – and the resulting higher GPA – would be viewed as better than a hard B in an honors level class by higher education institutions.

    “Since all averages are unweighted in terms of the review process, all applicants are on a fair playing field. ‘Weight’ is given in terms of the type of classes a student is taking (e.g., AP/IB/college level),” wrote an admissions officer from SUNY Geneseo in response to last year’s HS Counseling Center survey.

    Queensbury guidance counselors keep this feedback in mind as they help students plan their courses for the following year.

    “Students benefit from continual personal growth in their academics, increased rigor of their course, and consistency. Certainly, students should work within their abilities, progressing each year with further academic growth and challenge,” explained Dawn Vice, chair of the Guidance Department.

    That academic growth may actually be stymied under a weighted grading system. Some educators and researchers have observed that weighting classes differently discourages students from taking electives in areas such as the fine arts or sports, which help students become more well-rounded members of society. It can also have a negative impact on students who are challenging themselves in standard level classes, as it implies the work they are doing is less important.

    Colleges Consider the Whole Student
    When students apply to college,  high school counselors provide their transcripts, complete with a list of the courses taken, and a full profile of the courses offered at the high school. Last year’s survey of national colleges and universities indicated that college admissions officers take all of that information into account when reviewing student admissions.

    “We evaluate all students based on their high school, therefore there is no advantage to us for weighted or unweighted grades,” wrote an admissions officer from Binghamton University.

    An admissions officer from St. Lawrence University expressed similar sentiments, saying, “Ultimately, we’ll use the higher GPA, but our process is holistic, thorough and personalized, so we take into account curriculum and differences between weighted vs. unweighted grades within the core subjects. For our process, it is really about understanding the school and how it reports GPA and class rank information.”

    Because colleges receive applications from students attending schools with and without weighted GPAs, many strip the school-provided weight from the system and look at core courses only in order to achieve an apples-to-apples comparison.

    “We do not use GPA in our application review process. We’d rather see IB and AP courses than regular college prep courses,” wrote an admissions officer from the University of Vermont.

    Queensbury Grads Make Great Applicants
    Over the years, parents have occasionally expressed concerns that the lack of weighting in Queensbury may affect their child’s competitiveness when applying to colleges and for scholarships. While some scholarships do have minimum-GPA requirements, Queensbury students have enjoyed great success when applying to even the most demanding colleges in the country – without weighted grades. 

    As there is no unified grading system amongst high schools and no prevailing system for accepting college applicants, there will always be individual student circumstances – regardless of the grading system – that may impact acceptance to an institution. With that in mind, all students are encouraged to take advantage of the many rigorous, high level courses and challenging, diverse electives available at Queensbury High School. They can do so knowing that their work is highly valued, but that the educational experience of all students is valued equally.