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On Monday night, April 14, four members of the Muscatine School board went against the recommendations of both the MHS principal, Mike Mcgrory and the school superintendent, Dr. Jerry Riibe, and voted down their request to implement a weighted grading system for advanced placement (AP) classes in the high school.

McGrory gave four reasons why he believed the board should approve the proposal:

  • Weighted grading encourages students to take the more rigorous AP courses
  • Weighted grading gives extra emphasis to rigorous courses
  • Weighted grading creates a more rigorous and competitive climate in schools
  • The rigor of AP courses makes students more college ready

“I can guarantee you that AP courses will help make students more college ready and will also help with the immediate issue of our ACT scores," he told the board.

A January 30, 2014 report of survey results released by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) — an association of more than 13,000 secondary school counselors, independent counselors, college admission and financial aid officers, enrollment managers, and organizations — finds that students’ grades and the academic rigor of their course loads are the most important factor in the admission decision for college. They are weighed more heavily in some cases than standardized tests. In other words, kids who take harder classes in high school have a better chance of getting into the college of their choice than those who take standard classes.

Board members Tim Bowers, Tammi Drawbaugh, Randy Naber and Tom Johanns, went against the recommendations of the high school principal and the school superintendent and voted against a weighted grading system. Their argument came down primarily to this: they are concerned about using weighted grading to encourage students to take rigorous courses. Students should want to take these courses because they want to learn. That’s a noble sentiment, but entrance into college and winning of scholarships is highly competitive. If it is a matter of a high grade point average, or a rigorous course load, many students and their parents are going to opt for the high grade point average.

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Weighted grading for AP courses has been around since the early 70s to help reward kids who have attempted higher classes by recognizing that a B effort in an AP course is equivalent to an A effort in a standard course. Recent reports have put the number as high as 70 percent of the high schools in the U.S. that use some sort of weighted grading system for AP classes. Many often award points even for honors courses.

In a seminal 1996 study by Anne M. Cognard, The case for weighting grades and waiving classes for gifted and talented high school students, for the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut, she finds that “for weighting grades, the cumulative advantages of equity for students, the importance of encouraging students to take honors and AP classes, the fact that simple, unweighted GPA may place students at a disadvantage for college admissions and/or scholarship awards indicate that high schools should weight grades.

One would presume that a high school administrator like Mcgrory and a school superintendent like Dr. Riibe would do their homework before recommending this change to the board. I’m sure they’ve read plenty more reports than the ones I could find doing a cursory search on Google. One might even expect that this topic was covered in some depth in one or more of the advanced college courses they were required to take before becoming administrators.

While no system is perfect, if weighted grading encouraged even one more high school student to tackle a more rigorous course load by easing their concerns about their GPA, then it will have served its purpose. I hope this comes up again for a vote at a future board meeting and that these four board members reconsider their vote.

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