Grades that can motivate

School board seeks improved weighted grading system

By Kellen Olshefski

SLN Staff

The Elkhorn Area School Board took time to review the possibility of moving away from a weighted grading system at its meeting Monday.

The discussion opened with a presentation by Elkhorn Area High School Principal Tina Bosworth focusing on the current grading system and proposing the board consider a laude system.

A weighted grading system essentially adds an extra point to the 4-point scale for classes “recognized for advanced standing/dual credit by the four-year university system,” the criteria decided upon by the Academic Excellence Committee in 1997.

For example, receiving an A in a weighted class accounts for five points towards a student’s grade point average (GPA), while a non-weighted A only accounts for four.  Due to this, a student who receives straight A’s with a full load of weighted classes could receive a 5.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale.

According to Bosworth, this forces students to play a “mathematical game,” potentially passing up other opportunities in fear of the effect on their GPA.  Bosworth also noted the weighted grading system makes it difficult to maintain equity among students.

Bosworth shared a comparison of two freshman students, both of whom took a weighted class, to demonstrate this point.

While both students received straight A’s, student one, who to get ahead took a total of nine credits, received a 4.111 GPA.  Student one took a full credit in summer school prior to starting high school and a full load of classes his first year.

However, student two who only took a total of seven credits, ended up with a 4.143 GPA, ranking above student one in their class.


Laude system

Bosworth suggested moving towards a laude system as it motivates students to challenge themselves academically to reach a rigorous level without being penalized for taking non-honors courses of interest.

The laude system would recognize students based on the number of advanced classes they’ve taken in relation to their GPA, based on a 4-point scale.

Bosworth also noted how GPA under the weighted grading system affects college admission.  According to Bosworth, of the colleges and universities she spoke with (including Ripon, UW-Whitewater, and Marquette University), many schools either un-weight students GPA’s, recalculate on their own calculation system, or in the case of UW-Madison, don’t un-weight or recalculate GPA at all.

However, according to Bosworth, what all schools had in common were their concern with students’ rigor and the breadth of their studies, which she said are both rewarded under a laude system.

Elkhorn Area High School Senior Danielle Braun said the laude system wouldn’t have changed what she was looking for, but she would have taken other opportunities.

“I’ve played piano since second grade,” she said.  “ I love music, I haven’t been able to take any music classes though because they haven’t been able to fit in my schedule because I knew classes that I needed to take, I guess, to play the game because I knew where I needed to be for colleges.

“Personally, I think this is a good system from the stand point that it does allow you to have that more holistic transcript at the end of your high school career.”

Braun, who wants to be a high school math teacher one day, had to take seven AP classes this year to keep her GPA from dropping due to the weighted grading system.

“I’m in seven AP classes, which is more than you would take as a freshman in college, and that’s everyday,” she said.  “Usually your classes are only two or three days a week.”

Braun said she had to pass up a physics course, which would have been more beneficial in her career path, to take an AP environmental class, to keep her GPA from dropping.


Encourage, not penalize

School Board Vice President Wendy Carlson said the current problem with the weighted grading system is the proportion of weighted to non-weighted classes.  However, she noted that in Bosworth’s example, student one would have an opening later in his high school career, allowing him to take more weighted classes than student two.

“This isn’t the end of the story seeing it after one year or two years,” Carlson said.

District Administrator Greg Wescott said the district wants to reward students for their achievements and encourage them to take rigorous courses without penalizing them for taking courses they’re interested in.

“Do we want to have a system that encourages young people to say I’m better off with my grade point average to stay in study hall than to take something I’m interested in taking because it’s not weighted?  I don’t think that’s a system that we want to encourage.”

Bosworth said part of altering the grading system is creating a fairer system for students while continuing to provide students with different opportunities.

“It’s incredibly important we continue to elevate the bar for our students, challenge them academically and prepare them for that unknown world that’s out there waiting for them,” she said.        “I think this is a system that can provide them those opportunities while balancing that with those things that, I think, ultimately make us human.”

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