By Sasha Elenko and Samuel Chowning, Co-Content Editors
VHS does not calculate weighted grade point averages (GPAs). In fact, to our knowledge, the idea of factoring course difficulty into the calculation of GPAs has never been seriously promulgated to or considered by the administration.
But, seeing as how parents consistently ask the administration for weighted GPAs, and the two of us will not have the privilege of the retaliatory pen after we graduate next week, we figured it might be worth a preemptive response: GPAs at VHS should remain unweighted.
Weighted GPAs, which are now commonplace in high schools nationwide, are characterized by an enhanced impact on a student’s overall GPA when that student receives good grades in “more rigorous” classes, as compared to a smaller impact from getting good grades in “less rigorous” classes.
The most common manifestation of this includes a five-point grading scale in which a student in an honors class automatically gets 0.5 added to the numerical equivalent of their grade in the class, and likewise, they would get one point added to their grade for an AP class.
In other words, a student who takes only honors classes and receives all As would have a 4.5 GPA, and a student who achieves the same feat while taking only AP classes would receive a 5.0 GPA.
The idea behind this is, of course, to reward students for taking more rigorous classes. Advocates of the weighted GPA say its benefits include making it easier for colleges to glean a student’s academic potential in relation to the rigor of their courses, as well as increases accuracy in selecting the highest-achieving student for valedictorian status.
While it seems reasonable that someone who earns all As with a schedule full of AP classes might be more deserving of admission to top colleges than a classmate who, say, earns all As with a non-AP course load, that logic falls apart when comparing students from different schools, as happens in the college admissions process, where AP classes will always be the unequivocal holy grail.
This, in our opinion, is a failure of the admissions system itself, and their need to rank students based on AP course participation.
That is because at a school like VHS, which does not offer enough AP classes for a student to fill their schedule with them for even one year — let alone four — students will always be out-accomplished by their peers at larger schools.
The administration does send a report to colleges, detailing the AP and Honors classes available at the school, in an effort to ensure that everyone is considered fairly in accordance with the opportunities offered by the school — however, it goes without saying that a college would prefer an applicant with ten out of ten AP classes taken over an applicant with two out of two AP classes taken, especially as GPAs are generally converted to weighted GPAs by colleges during the admissions process.
The weighted GPA system is thus inherently flawed in its goals and its inability to accurately compare students’ capabilities from a wide variety of schools, giving us even less reason to actively support it.
All that being said, there is little reason to assume axiomatically that AP classes are more rigorous than honors classes, and that either of them is more rigorous than regular classes. This is especially evident in the case of classes like the Literature and the Elusive Now class at the high school, which is technically a standard-level class, but is reportedly not taught with any less rigor than the AP Literature class that it replaced.
One potential solution to this dilemma would be to qualify every single class in terms of its de facto difficulty and assign it a corresponding value, but even if anyone were willing to do that, there is nothing even approaching a guarantee that such an assessment would be accurate.
Furthermore, weighted GPAs do a disservice to students who might be valedictorian at a school with an unweighted GPA, but end up losing the honor because the only AP classes available aren’t suited to their interests. For example, if they had a predilection for the arts — an area of study in which only one AP class is offered at VHS.
The result is somewhat depressing: students turning their backs on the areas they want to explore, no matter how rigorous, and flocking to AP classes for the sake of status.
The final argument for unweighted GPAs is the aesthetic value of a 4.0. The elusive 4.0 has for a long time symbolized academic perfection. It epitomizes, unambiguously, the term “straight-A student.”
To replace that with a five-point scale, whose mastery would require taking more AP classes than are offered at our high school, would be to deny the satisfaction of a visibly perfect academic record to students who have achieved the highest possible marks in the most rigorous classes available.
So, to our school as well as our community, we want to extend our thanks for choosing and retaining unweighted GPAs. You let us explore what we want to explore, you don’t attempt to fruitlessly compare the difficulties of classes and you make sure people with any range of interests has a shot at the highest academic honor for a high school student.