Dumbing Down the GPA: It’s the Unsophisticated Bright Kid who Suffers



By 05/07/2012

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Just as drones attack from the air, so the attacks on quality education come from above, not below.  It is not the under-achieving students in urban centers who perpetuate the ongoing crisis in American education.  They are simply doing their best to survive the challenges of family, neighborhood and circumstance.  The threats come from the mindless educational potentates who have captured control of the best public schools in the country.

Massachusetts supposedly has the best public schools in the United States, and the best of the best are to be found in the affluent Boston suburbs—Belmont, Lexington and Wellesley, for example.

So when these top-flight schools decide that advanced honors courses in physics and chemistry are to be given the same weight in calculating a student’s official grade point average (GPA) as any other course, including cooking, check-book balancing, and make-up algebra, it becomes ever so clear—once again—that the country’s progressive educators have successfully pushed back the forces of school reform.  And it remains no less apparent that these same progressives continue to bash both talent and hard work.

Belmont and Lexington, with Wellesley in hot pursuit, have said that the official GPA shall no longer be boosted if the grades are earned in honors-level courses.  That antiquated practice of recognizing that some courses are more demanding than others creates social divides and denies students genuine course choice, it is thought.

Previously, students who wanted a top level GPA were forced to take the most challenging courses the school had to offer.  Now a student with a perfect GPA can become valedictorian of the class simply by accumulating a set of A’s in any old class whatsoever.

As usual, it’s a student who tells the truth.  “I feel that if you take the harder classes, that should be calculated in your GPA,” the vice president of the Wellesley student council told a Boston Globe reporter.

It is the Wellesley school board that prevaricates. A report from one of its committees told parents that “students who meet the expectation of a course should have a GPA that reflects the grade that they earned.”  (As if earning an A in computer science is the same as one in cooking.) To those who ask questions, school officials say that colleges pay no attention to GPAs anyhow—they look at the actual courses taken.  If it is not an honors course, the student is penalized by the college admissions office, so the change won’t really make any difference to student chances of getting into a good college.  They will need to take the honors courses anyhow.

Left unsaid is the fact that students are being misled when told every course counts the same.

Of course those from sophisticated families will see through the prevarication the education progressives have concocted in the name of social equality.  Those who suffer are only the bright kids from the less sophisticated families who foolishly believe what their school district tells them.

All this would be less painful to watch, were it not for the fact that what is happening in the best schools is inevitably going to shape what occurs elsewhere.

-Paul Peterson




Comment on this article
  • Anne Clark says:

    Similar situation here at Mendham HS in New Jersey in that honor rolls are calculated based on unweighted GPA. Nonsense. Just one more reason we have to attract better people to education as a career.

  • Clay Forsberg says:

    Paul I agree with you. Excelling in classes that are more difficult should be rewarded with grades that are more reflective of the difficultly of those classes.

    If I may however, I’m going to put a different twist on your premise. You mentioned cooking classes multiple times as a class that should not be equated to an Advanced Placement class say in Computer Science. But why do we limit Advanced Placement classes to those conventionally thought of as difficult.

    What if schools also offered AP classes in disciplines, say cooking – or more appropriately labeled, Culinary Arts. Not everyone wants, or should, strive to be a computer scientist. We have AP classes in English, yet a college degree in English often offers no more opportunity than one featuring a culinary expertise (actually probably less). Or what about an advanced class in shop that involves learning Computer Aided Design (CAD).

    Opportunities abound for students who do not wish to pursue higher education. In fact there is considerable debate on the value of some college pursuits considering the costs associated. Advance training in high school in many fields, along with internships, can be very lucrative as well as stimulating.

    Our high schools need to provide opportunities for as many students as possible. And when I say opportunities, I mean preparation for fulfilling lives regardless of of the interest. And the development of these interests should not be limited to those that require four years of higher education.

  • Justin Nanu says:

    I was going to make a comment but then I read Clay’s response and realize my comments would just be redundant. I’m certain that an AP Cooking class can be made to be so difficult that those with As in AP Chemistry would be close to failing while those with a passion and disposition for the culinary arts would be able to earn an A.

  • Christina Lordeman says:

    I’ve long felt that adjusting GPAs to reflect honors and AP courses taken is only necessary if class rank is a big deal. As Prof. Peterson already pointed out, colleges don’t care that much about a student’s actual GPA – they look at what courses the student took. The reality is that they don’t give you extra points for taking advanced calculus at Harvard instead of basic algebra at a community college, so inflating GPAs only gives students false expectations, in my opinion. If a school thinks it’s important to honor students according to rank, let them adjust GPAs for that purpose only. Students need to be encouraged to take risks and seek out challenges without the promise of a life boat.

  • Cal says:

    I don’t know what on earth you all are talking about when you say colleges don’t look at GPA. California’s public universities comprise a significant chunk of the nation’s universities. The CSU system *only* uses GPA for local acceptance, and the UC uses from 75 to 100%.

    Every college publishes the mean GPA of their admitted and accepted class. On what planet do you all think they aren’t looking at GPA?

    The two reasons schools drop weighted grades: 1) they have a significant URM population and want to help them look more competitive or 2) they have a significant Asian population and want to keep their white population from leaving. I’d look to those two reasons first. If not them, then some other consideration of that nature. But in any event, the school officials are lying when they say colleges only look at classes, not grades.

  • Sean says:

    Paul – good thought, but you’re missing an element that I’ve seen over the years as a public high school classroom teacher at 3 “levels” (AP, Honors, and “Standard” (or whatever the PC world calls the lowest performing)). The competition for massive federal dollars leads districts to artificially and unreasonably populate the Honors and AP classes with students who would be much better educated at another level. And parents override any teacher recommendation that doesn’t give little Johnny the Honors class next year and its 5.0 (v. 4.0) quality points.

    On top of that, districts encourage marginal students to take AP classes so US News and World Report puts them in the top 1000 schools (notice the top schools on most lists have 100% of students taking AP).

    So you should have a reward for taking a more rigorous course, but other factors influencing education-related decisions are changing the composition of the Honors and AP classes. In many districts, Honors is the new Standard.

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