Friday, November 13, 2009
Grades, GPA, and Confusion
I work with a great team of people, and one group's focus during this time of year is to review and evaluate high school transcripts. At times, I pitch in and help a little bit, both to make sure everything is going well, but also so I can look at the transcripts for our freshman applicants and see if there are any new trends at the high schools. In looking at about 30 transcripts today, I noticed that a number of schools, from New York to Tennessee to Georgia, are starting to add weight to teachers grades. For example, if a student receives an 87 from his AP Lit. teacher for the Fall semester, some schools are now adding points to the 87 grade (generally somewhere from 2-10 points), so the teacher grade at school X that adds 7 points now becomes a 94.
While I am all for schools having a say about their own grading system, I am worried that this is being done to have an impact on college admissions offices, and that the high schools do not really understand how this might affect their students. From my years of seeing a wide variety of grading systems (letter grades, numerical grades, narrative grade reports, non-standard letter grades, etc.), I have noticed, at least at UGA, that this type of grade alteration is actually hurting some of the best students at these schools.
At UGA, we look at individual grades, and if a school does not add weight to the individual grades, we will then add .5 to each AP or IB grade (4 point scale used), so a B grade would go from a 3.0 to a 3.5. If a school does add weight to the individual grades, whether it is 2 points or 10 points, we will then not "double dip" and add any more weight, as this would not be equal. At this point, most people start to think that the individual school adding weight looks great, and want their own school to do this. And yes, for some students in some schools, this does add a little more weight than UGA's method. BUT WAIT!!
What about those student's at the very top, taking a large number of AP classes and making mostly A's? Sam took 5 classes last semester, 3 of which were AP's, and made a grade of 95 in all of them (and an A is a 90 or better at his school). The school then adds 7 points to each AP grade, so he now has two grades of 95 and three grades of 102. To UGA, we look at this and see 5 A's, so Sam has a 4.00 GPA, and do not add any weight because the school already did. But if Sam's school did not add any weight, we would then see five grades of 95, add a .5 for each of the AP grades, and his GPA to us would be a 4.30. This is just one semester, not three years of grades, but you see the point. When a high school tries to work the system, sometimes it does not really work out the way they want.
What can you do? Do your best, challenge yourself, know how both your high school and the colleges to which you apply evaluate grades, and trust that UGA and other colleges like us try our best to look at everyone on a level playing field.