Education

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Texas Schools Plan to Alter High School Grading System

October 27, 2008 01:45 PM
by Jen O'Neill
In an attempt to create a standardized GPA measurement, Texas’ higher education commissioner proposes to modify the weighted grading system for advanced courses.

GPA Debate in Texas

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Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes, responding to orders from state lawmakers, seeks to create a uniform grading system that would facilitate comparisons between school districts. Paredes’ plan proposes to award students only an extra half-point for pre-Advanced Placement or pre-International Baccalaureate courses on their grade point averages.

Previously, AP courses were on a 5.0 scale, where an “A” would be worth 5 points, a “B” worth 4 points, and so on. Under Paredes’ plan, grades would remain on a 4.0 grading scale with the opportunity to get extra credit points for taking challenging classes. Initially, Paredes sought to make classes—from remedial to AP—on the same 4.0 grading scale, but changed his mind after being blasted by critics. In addition, under his plan, all college level classes, including AP, IB and dual-credit courses, would receive a full extra-credit point.

In the interim, school officials, parents and teachers remain concerned that there will be no incentive for students to want to excel. "I don't want to dumb down courses," Paredes concluded. "I want to raise everyone to the level of strong coursework that leads to post-secondary success."

Opinion & Analysis: What’s the incentive for students to excel?

Although higher education admissions directors think the new homogeneous standards will provide a “level playing field” for students who are applying to colleges, College Station schools Superintendent Eddie Coulson doesn’t agree, calling the proposal a “double-edged sword for kids.” Coulson’s attitude is that one size does not fit all, and kids need an incentive to be challenged.

Grade point averages are very important in Texas: a state law allows students in the top 10 percent of their class guaranteed admission to the state college or university of their choice. Parents, teachers and school administrators also wonder what the incentive will be for students to want to take more rigorous courses if they don’t receive additional credit for taking the courses.

While Texas considers eliminating a weighted grading system, school districts in Virginia plan to implement a weighted scale for basic, honors and advanced courses, based on the idea that advanced courses “are more rigorous.” Lin Corbin-Howerton, director of school improvement, observed, "The idea is to offer a diverse group of students the different kinds of options … without limiting the rigor that they need."

A student in Kalamazoo, Michigan, agrees. “Weighting grades is the only fair solution to those willing to go the extra mile,” wrote an anonymous student in the Kalamazoo Gazette. The student believes that weighted grades would encourage students to take more advanced classes, while raising the bar for college application selection.

Background: The subjective nature of grades

Although colleges have their own rating systems, admissions personnel still find it difficult to know what certain grades mean to different schools. Admissions director Richard Martinez at Ohio’s College of Wooster told The Washington Post in 2006 that he travels to different high schools to determine what the grades actually mean to each school, since the scales are so subjective. There are several factors that determine grades, and researchers say that “admissions directors cannot forget about the unintentional biases inherent in grading.”

Related: How GPA is evaluated

Peterson’s, a leading directory of colleges and universities, says colleges and universities utilize three “prevailing grading systems”: the 4.0 scale, the percentile system and letter methods. According to the article “How Colleges Interpret GPAs,” students should take tough classes, particularly in subjects of interest, so colleges can “reward you for stretching yourself, and will find a way to give you ‘credit’ for doing well in a strong academic program.” More often than not, colleges and universities evaluate GPA based on their own methods.

Reference: Applying to college

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