GHS looking at ending practice of adding value to grades earned in tougher classes

GILFORD — The School Board got its first look at what could be a new approach to weighted-grading, class rankings and differentiated diplomas at its regular monthly meeting Monday night.

Presented by Superintendent Kent Hemingway and High School Principal Peter Sawyer, the focus was if and how the School District would change the way it reports student data.

Specifically, the district could move away from a so-called weighted grade — a process by which a student can earn additional points on his or her grade point average (GPA) by taking honors or Advanced Placement (AP) level classes.

In Sawyer's opinion and as a result of his research, "there is no benefit (or detriment) to a student applying for a college coming from a high school that weights or (does not weight) grades."

Largely, he said, this is because colleges typically have their own standards for determining admissions and GPAs are not the only standard used, adding standardized test scores (SAT, ACT) and community service are also some of the things that factor into college acceptance. Furthermore, he said, every school district has different ways of "weighting" the value of different classes so there is no common standard.

Sawyer also pointed out that students should be enrolling in courses that have the appropriate level of rigor and not necessarily taking a class because it can possibly lead to a higher grade point average. He cited one instance where a class valedictorian had a GPA of 4.6 and was headed into his senior year with four advanced placement (AP) classes and a study hall. The student didn't want the study hall and really wanted to take chorus — a class without any weight possibility. However, if he took the class and earned an A (4.0) in it, his overall GPA would have gone down as a result.

"We would much rather have a student enroll in a course than a study hall in his or her senior year," Sawyer wrote in his proposal.

School Board Vice Chair Kurt Webber said he was leery and was especially concerned that class rankings would be affected. A West Point graduate and a current member of that military academy's admission team, Webber noted that class rank is very important for admission to military academies and top-tier schools such as Harvard or Princeton.

Webber also noted that class rank can effect financial aid packages for students and he wouldn't want to see any financial harm come to any family in terms of college expenses.

"I don't want to impact the students who want to get into the top schools," Webber continued, saying that finishing in the top 20 percent of a class increases a student's chance of getting into a top 20 college.

Sawyer said he did a study of the current graduating class and said removing the weighted grades had minimal effect on who finished in the top 10. He said the top seven didn't change and the two people who are eighth and seventh switched positions. He assured the board he didn't want to do anything that would effect the top 10 students.

"How do we know this class isn't an anomaly?" asked Webber.

Sawyer said he didn't know and said he would research the last six or seven classes to make sure his results were accurate for previous classes as well.

Hemingway said yesterday that school districts in the Lakes Region are dissimilar when it comes to weighted grades. While Laconia, Inter-Lakes, and Winnisquam Regional weight grades, Belmont and Plymouth do not. In Newfound, AP classes are weighted at 1.05 percent — much less than the other weighted districts.

He also added that after listening to the initial input from the school board, he was going to recommend that class rankings remain as they are.

Hemingway and Sawyer said they would continue to do more research about grade-weighting and report back to the School Board in January or February. Ideally, they said if there were to be changes, the earliest they could take place would be for the incoming freshman class of 2019.

Hemingway is recommending the Gilford School District add a "diploma with distinction" that would require 26 class credits to earn — a Gilford High School diploma now requires 23.5, would require a minimum GPA of 3.5 and there would be a community service component for one-half of a credit that would require a minimum of 24 hours. In addition, a diploma with distinction would require a student earn 13.5 or more credits from honors or AP classes.