Formula for student GPA may change

(Boston Globe/file 2007)
By Evan Allen
Globe Correspondent / May 6, 2012
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A proposal to change the way grade point average is calculated at Wellesley High School has students and parents grappling with how four years’ worth of academics can be summed up in one neat figure.

The high school is considering switching from a weighted system, where GPA is adjusted based on the difficulty of classes, to an unweighted system, where an A in an honors class is worth the same as an A in a lower-level class.

“I think it’s healthy for the community to look at policies and evaluate them from time to time,” said Superintendent Bella Wong, noting that the idea is still in the discussion stage. “It really just came up this year.”

How GPA is calculated is a purely local matter; there are no statewide standards, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Lexington High recently switched to an unweighted scale, and Belmont is planning to do the same next year. In Newton and Arlington, both weighted and unweighted GPAs are calculated.

Wellesley High’s GPA committee e-mailed parents last week seeking their opinions. Students, meanwhile, have mixed views on changing the formula.

“I feel that if you take the harder classes, that should be calculated in your GPA,” said junior Ian Speers, vice president of the Student Congress and a student representative to the School Council and the School Committee, who takes all honors and AP classes. “I feel like it wouldn’t reward the kids who are doing well in those high honors and AP classes.”

Other students, however, say losing the weighted formula would eliminate the incentive for students to take high-level classes just for the GPA bump.

“People would be more likely to choose the classes that are the correct level for them instead of taking an honors class to boost their GPA,” said senior Christina de Fontnouvelle, co-editor in chief of the Wellesley High School newspaper, The Bradford, who takes all honors and AP classes.

Wong said a formal proposal would require approval first by the superintendent and then by the School Committee. Wong is leaving at the end of this school year, and said that any change to the current policy would be made by the next administration.

According to information sent out by the GPA committee, Wellesley High currently uses a 5.0 scale that gives students who earn A’s in honors-level classes higher point values than students who earn A’s in lower-level classes.

The high school uses grade point average to determine the valedictorian and on applications for the National Honor Society. GPA is also used in some scholarship and college applications.

Committee members polled college representatives and found that most colleges simply recalculate student GPAs to match their own scales. About 90 percent of the representatives said they either preferred an unweighted scale or did not care which was used.

“Students who meet the expectation of a course should have a GPA that reflects the grade that they earned,” the committee said in a slide show sent to parents last week. “Under our core value of academic excellence, we believe that all students should take the courses that provide the appropriate balance of challenge and interest and that course selections should not be driven by GPA.”

Students who do take high-level classes would still be recognized, according to the committee, because their transcripts will reflect the rigor of their courses.

Lexington High School recently switched from a weighted scale to an unweighted scale, according to Lester Eggleston, director of guidance and counseling.

Though there was resistance at first, he said, the new system has not caused any problems.

“We’ve been tracking pretty regularly how our kids are doing in acceptance to schools,” he said. “There haven’t been any significant changes that can be tied back to GPA.”

The Massachusetts Board of Higher Education has its own weighted formula that the state’s nine universities and four UMass campuses use to recalculate high school GPAs, according to Katy Abel, spokeswoman for the state Department of Higher Education.

“No matter what individual schools do to calculate their GPAs, we recalculate them,” said University of Massachusetts Amherst spokesman Daniel Fitzgibbons.

Private universities use their own standards to interpret GPA — and often, it’s not the single number that tells the story.

“It’s really the academic transcript and not just the GPA,” said Colin Riley, Boston University spokesman. “We know from each school how many courses they offer that are advanced, either AP or honors. We look to see if the student, as an individual student, has challenged themselves.”

In Wellesley, Wong said, the GPA committee is still in the fact-gathering phase of its plan. Responses to the parent survey are due on May 7.

If the plan moves forward, said School Committee chairwoman Suzy Littlefield, there will be lots of time for public input. “There’s strong support on either side,” she said. “It’s a very interesting topic.”

Evan Allen can be reached at

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