November 4, 2016

As we turn the clocks back this weekend, count me among the many who will welcome the extra hour of sleep.  With Tuesday’s Board meeting, Wednesday’s World Series Game 7, and Thursday’s outstanding performance of The Crucible at Gunn, there have been late nights this week, but all for good reason.  Consequently, this edition will be shorter than most!

This Friday morning certainly got off to a great start.  Last week a colleague from Intel called and asked if some visitors from Sweden could tour our high schools this morning.  A couple days ago we learned that the “visitors” were actually all members of the Swedish Parliament, including the Chair of the Education Committee!  We rolled out the red carpet by putting them in the hands of the most important people in our district … our students.  Six of our Paly students escorted the guests around campus and gave them a firsthand look at our three goals in action:  high quality teaching and learning, wellness and safety, and equity and access.  In fact, I did not even feel the need to accompany the delegation beyond saying “halla” and “adjo.”  Dr. Jeong Choe, Advanced Authentic Research (AAR) Coordinator, also gave them a quick briefing on our AAR program.  As I walked them to their vehicles, they could not stop talking about our wonderful students and excellent school system.  My only regret is that they ran out of time to visit our other equally extraordinary schools.

Looking at the week in review, aside from the adorable Halloween parades at our elementary schools, this week has been dominated by the Grade Point Average (GPA) conversations.  I have received over 100 emails and two petitions regarding the reporting of Weighted Grade Point Average (WGPA), and I think our Board members and principals have as well.  Here is where we stand:

1.  Students who have completed college applications due November 1 for Early Admission, Early Action, and Early Decision may file a written request with their school to have a transcript showing their weighted GPA to the schools to which they have applied.  The weighted GPA is determined by the current (and historical) practices each school uses.

2.  In conducting further fact-finding and data analysis, we have determined that it is not in the best interest of several students to automatically issue second semester transcripts with both a weighted and unweighted GPA.  This is because the UC weighting system used at Paly for the last several years actually generates a WGPA lower than the unweighted GPA for some students.  I will be reporting on this issue and some of the other problems we have encountered to the Board at a future meeting.  Also, I will be listening to staff, parents, and students, as well as identifying relevant research and best practices in similar districts in order to craft a revised recommendation for this year.  During the next few weeks, I will be scheduling a few sessions – both via webinar and open forums – to gather additional feedback. 

3.  Sometime before April 1, I will be making a recommendation to the Board for reporting grades on transcripts beyond this current school year in accordance with our existing Board Policy BP 5121 Grades/Evaluation of Student Achievement, which states:

 “.  The Superintendent or designee shall recommend to the Board the methodology to be used in calculating students grade point averages …

The Superintendent or designee shall also recommend to the Board whether extra grade weighting will be assigned for honors courses that are substantially similar in breadth and rigor to an Advanced Placement course, an entry-level college course or a community college level course.”

Again, prior to making any recommendation for the long-term, we will provide ample opportunity for community input via open forums, webinars, and surveys. 

Reporting weighted GPAs on transcripts is a significant change in past practice and deserves thoughtful deliberation.  Among the many considerations we need to address are:

  • What are the pros and cons of using either the UC system (Paly model) or the Gunn model for weighting grades? What are the pros and cons of models used in similar districts and neighboring districts?
  • What courses get weighted grades?  Is it just AP courses that get weighted?  What about rigorous electives and advanced courses?  What about dual credit courses at Foothill?  What about AAR?
  • How can we assure ALL students have access to courses with weighted grades?  If weighted classes have prerequisites, will they be accessible to all students?
  • Should we put a limit on how many weighted grades a student can receive?
  • How much weight should a particular course receive?  Should Honors courses get a 0.5 weight and AP courses a 1.0 weight?  (New Trier High School has three different weights for each letter grade – an A can be a 4.0, 4.67, or 5.33 depending on whether the class is “College Prep, Honors, or High Honors.”)
  • What are the unanticipated well-being issues?  Will reporting WGPA increase or decrease student stress?
  • Will weighted grades create more academic competition and pressures among students?  If so, how can we mitigate some of these pressures?
  • What grades gets reported on the transcript?  (Mountain View-Los Altos high schools report four different grades.)
  • With which class would implementation begin?
  • Can a weighting system be designed to:
    • Value STEM, humanities, arts, and languages equally
    • Encourage students to pursue highest level of learning in their area of passion
    • Encourage students to choose courses based on student interest and talent
    • Maintain enrollment in pathways classes and electives

To illustrate the complexity of the matter, we ran a simulation for our current 474 Paly seniors using both the UC system and the Gunn system.  A total of 269 students had higher WGPAs with the Gunn system than with the UC system, and 205 students had higher WGPAs with the UC system than with the Gunn system.  This is not a simple matter. 

Throughout this protracted discussion, we will continue to remind parents and students of what we know about the college admissions process.  GPA is one of several components of the admissions process and most colleges recalculate a weighted GPA according to their own criteria and not ours!  The teacher recommendations matter a great deal, as do the student essay, SAT/ACT scores, and especially the rigor of the classes that students take – regardless of their grade.  We also know that most colleges take a holistic approach to evaluating students.  They want to understand what drives and engages each student and GPA does not tell them that.  I constantly remind our students that they are so much more than a number, and the time spent worrying about GPA points is time wasted because they could be using that time to pursue or explore some topic that captures their interest.  That said, we want a grade reporting system that will assure the best possible outcomes for our students, assure we continue to have a credible relationship with our colleges and universities, and assure that we take into account all voices.

So while my weekly is pretty slim on content, especially for our elementary and middle school families, please be sure to read the weekly messages from the Education Services and Business Services team.

In addition to the extra sleep, I hope you have an extra nice time this weekend.  If you are looking for something to do, I highly recommend you see Gunn’s performance of The Crucible.  I went to opening night and was beyond impressed with the talent and power of our students.  It is an intense play that I remember reading when I was in high school, but at that time I had no idea it would be relevant these 50 years later.  Kudos to Mr. James Shelby, Ms. Kristen Lo, Mr. Paul Dunlap, and other faculty and staff for unleashing the mighty talents of our remarkable students.