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Yesterday I was checking things online when I came upon this post from a '92 MSA alumna asking what scholars thought about weighted classes at their high schools:

"I teach at Lebanon High School and we are thinking about weighting classes for the next school year and I was wondering what former MoScholars have to say about this. I know that as an alum of the 92 academy, I understand the importance of upper-level academics.

If you wouldn't mind please answer the following questions:

Where did you go to high school?

Did you have weighted classes?
If so, what classes were weighted?
If so, were your classes on a 5 or 11 pt. scale?
What were some advantages/disadvantages of having weighted classes?

If not, would you have liked weighted classes at your school? Why? Why not?
What were some advantages/disadvantages to having weighted classes?

Thanks for your time."

I figured my torturous experiences with my high school's system qualified me to say at least a little something about it, so I put in my two cents:

"I'm currently a sophomore at university. My high school had weighted 'honors' classes, and I thought it was OK. There were some benefits and some problems.

It definitely helped my GPA when an A in an honors class was worth 5 points, and I agree with Ryan that it's nice to get something more for an A in a harder class, esp. when some students take nothing more challenging than PE and office aide hours and get straight A's.

That said, though, big problems can arise when talented and intelligent students who have aspirations of attending good universities, thus needing the best GPA possible, want to express their talents, too, through art and music, yet fear having a lower GPA than their peers who take nothing but difficult 'academic' classes. My high school, for instance, didn't have honors band classes, but one could get honors credit for orchestra (only strings) and choir. Was that fair? We didn't think so, but our band director had better things to do with his time (e.g. finding music for us to play, fundraising, leading the band, disciplining students) than filling out forms so his advanced classes like Jazz Band could be considered 'honors' classes just like the corresponding elite orchestra and choir groups. I can't really blame him for not wanting to take time out of his already jam-packed schedule just to fill out those forms, as the majority of students really didn't care if a class was an honors course or not.

Further, most universities and scholarship selection committees don't want a weighted GPA. When it comes time to be selected for things like National Merit Scholarships, they want your unweighted GPA. That means that if finding that total isn't automated—it wasn't at my high school—the counselors have to figure that out by hand, possibly making mistakes along the way. In the end, all honors classes do is help differentiate students within a given high school class, allowing the relative difficulty of one's class schedule to factor into calculations of class rank. High class rank is definitely something that universities look at...but by no means is it that important in and of itself.

So if you really want to set up a system whereby A's in harder classes get, say, a 5.0 on an overall 4.0 scale, you're going to want to make sure a few things are implemented better than they were at my high school:

1. Make sure the computer systems in place to keep track of grades can give both the weighted and unweighted GPAs if necessary. This wouldn't be that hard to build into a system if one were even a slightly competent programmer.

2. Set clear criteria for designating courses honors/weighted so that you don't have too many honors courses (even in ideal situations, in most public schools only the top few percent of a grade will even be interested in the classes) and so that you don't have too few to satisfy student interest. Think logically.

3. Think about setting different kinds of criteria for 'subjective' classes like art and music, because while these might not fit strictly academic criteria for honors/weighted classes, it's still important that students who wish to pursue these things aren't penalized. Then again, if you have small programs in music or art, with few classes offered, it might not make a difference in your school—though in that case I'd feel bad for the students who have so few options.

4. Don't make the forms that much of a hassle to fill out for a class to be designated honors/weighted. Many teachers, especially those who have a lot of responsibilities beyond just teaching the curriculum, just won't want to deal with it.

5. Make sure scheduling works out for those few students who want to take the courses. If there aren't that many honors classes, and there aren't that many students who will want to take them—which is inevitable—scheduling must be made logical. Scheduling the only honors calculus course at the same time as the only honors English course (just for example) is not a good idea. Similarly, if there are only a few AP courses, those would probably be weighted/honors designated, and most upper-level students would be interested in them—so you really must make it so that students can take all or most of them without bizarre scheduling contortions.

Hopefully this was instructive. If you want any more information, feel free to email me. I'm always glad to help people get things going more smoothly than my high school managed to."

I think that's a pretty accurate assessment of the problems with my high school's system that should be corrected in any other implementation, though I might not have put it as succinctly as I could've. I probably could've said "think logically" fewer times. Then again, I wrote that standing at a computer terminal in the basement of a building before Christianity class, so for the lack of time I think it's pretty well put. I wanted to mirror Aubrey's concerns about students interested arts/electives not getting due credit for their exertions while counteracting Ryan's unabashedly pro-weighting response, which I think really glossed over the problems such a system could have:

"I'm a senior at Festus High School, and we have weighted classes. Our weighted classes are college algebra, trigonometry, calculus, Spanish 3 and 4, French 3 and 4, the advanced English classes, advanced physics, and advanced chemistry. Our classes are done on an 11 point scale. Weighting classes is a great idea, because otherwise someone could take easy P.E., art, and shop classes, get A's in all of them, and have a better GPA than someone who is taking challenging courses that might be making B's. Weighting classes gives students an incentive to take the tougher courses."

Well, yeah. That's the obvious answer. Anyway, if Lebanon High School adopts such a system of weighting, hopefully they'll take our comments into account. Yay for changing things for the better.

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A note: Michelle Branch, despite being overproduced, really makes catchy music—she apparently learned somewhere along the way that including a melancholy wash of harmonized, jangly guitar and voices is the way to go. This latest album of hers, Hotel Paper, is quite satisfying to listen to, if not any great obscure masterpiece.

6:20 pm, November 25, 2003 :: the jablog years

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