GILFORD — A School Board Policy Committee meeting which nearly 35 parents attended Wednesday night morphed into a emotional yet philosophical discussion about children, how they learn, and what benefits, if any, there are to grade "weighting".
Nearly all of the parents who spoke wanted the district to reverse its decision to stop weighting honors-level classes and add additional weight only to Advanced Placement-level classes.
In lieu of weighting honors classes, the district currently offers a "diploma with distinction" that requires a 3.5 weighted average over four years and honors or A.P. classes in all of the core subjects plus at least four blocks of a foreign language.
Principal Peter Sawyer estimated that about 12 of the 140 students in the senior class would achieve that rank.
A weighted scale gives more credit to more rigorous classes. For example, an A-plus in A.P. Chemistry earns a student a 5.3 on a 4.0 scale. Right now, an A-plus in honors or college prep chemistry earns a 4.3 and an A earns a 4.0. Theoretically, a top student could have a 5.3 grade point average in all of his or her core four classes — English, Social Studies, Math, and Science — but see a drop in overall GPA by taking a band course that only has a possibility of a 4.3 — making the GPA or Grade Point Average drop.
Sawyer is an advocate of eliminating grade weighting for a number of reasons — that colleges and universities use their own system for acceptance, that class rank and weighting grades allows student to "game" the system, and, in some cases, weighting will stop a student from taking a liberal arts class because there is no weight added to it and, in extraordinary cases, an "A" could lower an overall GPA.
"Our job is to make sure kids are challenging themselves," Sawyer said, meaning the guidance department and teachers should be steering students to classes that challenge their intellect but don't challenge them to the point that they get in over their head and become frustrated and unhappy.
But most of the parents didn't see it that way.
As to the diploma with distinction, one woman had a son who went through a rough time in his freshman year, got a "D" in a core class, and she said he then couldn't earn the diploma with distinction no matter how hard he tried.
Another parent said she continually pressured her child to take the more rigorous classes and now she's in veterinary school, but she needed the carrot of weighted grades to help her impress upon her daughter how important taking more rigorous classes is.
Also attending last night's Policy Committee meeting were Gilmanton School Board members Frank Weeks and Adam Mini. Two of the seven seats in the combined high school board are from Gilmanton.
Weeks, like Sawyer, said he was less concerned about GPA and grade weighting as it applies to admissions and scholarships because a close relative of his is on the admissions team at an Ivy League school and has told him that the vast majority of colleges strip out weighted grades and use their own system.
Weeks said the Gilmanton School Board is divided on the issue.
Parents were also concerned with the importance of class rank. If a school uses GPA to rank students, and Gilford does, then not finishing in the top 10 or the top 10-percent of their class, can effect college admissions — especially to top tier colleges.
"Very few thing in the world aren't ranked in some way," said one parent who supports weighting for ranking reasons.
Middle School Principal Sydney Leggett agreed with Sawyer. She said all that weighting grades and ranking classes have done is make students focused on that aspect of learning and not learning for learning's sake.
"We need a culture change and if not now, when," she said.
But her son partially disagreed with her.
"I believe in rewarding kids," said Connor Leggett. "But what's bothers me is that kids won't take other classes (art, music, theater, band) because of the weighted GPA.
The two policy committee members, Jack Landow and Chris McDonough, sat silent for most of the two and one-half hour meeting. They did not meet after the public discussion was done and the meeting adjourned.
The next step is for Landow and McDonough to meet again in a posted committee meeting and have a discussion about this and other policies. The policy committee will make a recommendation to the full School Board.
Both Landow and McDonough said they had a lot of information to process and declined any further comment.