Dean of Academics mulls elimination of weighted grades

by Patrick Millican ‘15

Over the last few years, the Saint Ignatius rumor mill has generated some fairly colossal canards, but recent stirrings about a proposed de-weighting of classes hasn’t been one of them.

The current grade-weighting system, which is similar to the model by which many other area schools abide, mandates that a grade for an honors-level class have .25 points tacked onto it and an AP-class grade have .5 points added, before being averaged into a student’s GPA.

Since the beginning of the year, the office of Dean of Academics, Mr. Gavin, in conference with the office of the Dean of Teachers Mr. Ptak, has been seeking advice from area high schools, college admissions directors, and fellow administrative staff as to whether the current grade-weighting system should be abolished or changed.

But, some might ask, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? A better question–the one Mr. Gavin has begun asking–is Why have it in the first place? He cites most colleges’ practice of taking the weight off students’ grades when they review their transcripts. In other words, colleges alter the GPA figures they receive by making all A+s worth 4.3, all As worth 4.0, etc., and instead measuring how difficult classes are by reading short course descriptions sent to them by high schools.

An example goes as follows: A student enrolled in Honors Algebra II-Trig with Limits who earns an A- one semester would earn a 3.95 to be averaged into his school GPA. However, when that class shows up on a college résumé, the admissions person reading it would ignore the weight put on the class and instead look at the grade purely as an A-. Then, he or she would read a description provided by our school of what is studied in Limits to determine how difficult of a class it really is, disregarding the distinction “Honors.”

The system currently in place, some allege, is a flawed one because it puts too much stress on whether the title of a class includes either of two words (namely “Honors” or “AP”). In some cases, it may incentivize students to place undue priority on their GPA numbers by taking classes that are out of their depth and disregarding other important considerations during class selection, such as the course’s teacher and the demand the class puts on the student’s time.

Mr. Gavin believes there ought to be a “balance”: an incentive that entices enough students to take classes for which they’re prepared but that doesn’t artificially increase the average student’s GPA or lead him to enroll in courses he can’t handle.

In order to get a good idea of how the student body would feel if these changes were to be implemented, an unscientific poll was taken of a small sample of students from all four grade levels. They were asked how they and their classmates would react in the event these proposals ever became a reality.

The findings? The plurality of responses were negative, many students who fell into this category voicing opinions to the effect of “That would defeat the purpose of taking higher-level classes” and “Way fewer people would take honors or AP classes.” Matt Kobunski ‘14 said that the proposal “wouldn’t be fair” for students who have chosen to shoulder a greater workload and whose GPAs therefore ought to evince that decision.

Others said that their choices of class and those of their classmates would remain unchanged. As Joey Ripcho ‘17 put it, “It wouldn’t change a thing.” Some reactions, in fact, were cautiously cheerful: Tyler Cornell ‘15 said the proposal would improve the situation and would make things “fairer,” but parenthetically added that for others, “it would depend whether they continued taking advanced classes.” Still others, of course, expressed apathy towards the policy or seemed bemused when informed that grade-weighting existed at all.

Never fear, scandalized students, since as of printing, there are currently plans to nix the current weighting system or alter it in any other way; as Mr. Gavin put it, “They’re just being kicked around.”