Students, parents clash with admin on weighted GPA issue

Dhara Yu, Author

Emotions ran high at the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education meeting yesterday evening at the district office, where students, parents, school administrators and board trustees heatedly discussed the merits and disadvantages of including students’ weighted grade-point-averages on transcripts for college applications.

Palo Alto High School’s current practice is to report only the unweighted GPA on students’ transcripts and to not make a weighted GPA available in the Common App except on special request for scholarship consideration. Gunn High School gives its students the option to report either their weighted or unweighted GPAs to Common Application colleges, although not on transcripts. The Paly administration recently released a statement reaffirming its current practice, stating that reporting weighted GPAs is not conducive to fostering a healthy school climate. 

Amid concerns from students and parents that this practice disadvantages students currently in the college and merit scholarship application process, the Board decided to take up the issue for discussion earlier than the originally scheduled date in January.

PAUSD Supt. Max McGee presented his Two Point Plan for aligning the two high schools’ grade reporting process, which stipulates that both schools would report only students’ unweighted GPA on transcripts. In cases where colleges use weighted GPA as the criteria for merit scholarships, PAUSD would generate an official letter to the institution.

When asked by a Board trustee what the high schools would do in a situation in which a college would not accept a letter vouching for a student’s weighted GPA, McGee responded by insisting that he would directly call the admissions department, eliciting an audible hiss from the audience.

Over 20 community members voiced their opinions on the issue during the Open Forum session, the overwhelming majority of whom argued in favor of reporting weighted GPAs. Paly senior Maya Katz, who pointed out to the Board at its meeting two weeks ago that not reporting weighted GPAs would disadvantage students for merit scholarships at certain colleges, most notably the University of Oregon, urged the trustees to actively seek community input.

“We need your [the Board’s] support to get student voice and student opinion on the topic,” Katz said.

Other student speakers echoed Katz’s sentiments, emphasizing the need for administrators to listen to the student body. Gunn senior Asaf Katzir spoke in defense of reporting weighted GPAs, explaining that he was depending on merit scholarships that consider weighted GPAs to help finance his college education. Parents underscored similar points in their addresses to the Board, with many saying that eliminating the option of reporting weighted GPAs constitutes a restriction on student freedom.

“Can we just add a column with weighted GPAs [on the transcript]?” Gunn parent David Hong implored the Board, drawing a rousing round of applause.

Just four speakers, all of whom were Paly administrators, advocated for reporting only unweighted GPAs. Paly principal Kim Diorio said she was surprised to see that no one from the Gunn administration attended the meeting to defend McGee’s Two Point Plan, and that so many speakers decried eliminating weighted GPAs.

“I see this [standardized grade reporting practices] as an opportunity, but it sounds like it hasn’t been framed that way with the Gunn students and parents,” Diorio said. “I hear a lot of fear and worry.”

Following the Open Forum session, Board member Camille Townsend argued forcefully in favor of reporting weighted GPAs, saying that it was “terrible” that students had to bring this issue to the board in the first place and that the district should not “gerrymander the APs [Advanced Placement courses],” by failing to reflect weighted classes in students’ GPAs.

While neither of them explicitly said no to reporting weighted GPAs, trustees Ken Dauber and Terry Godfrey stressed the need to listen to professional educators in making the decision. Fellow Board member Melissa Baten Caswell expressed support for re-evaluating the grade reporting process such that weighted GPAs are included on student transcripts, but emphasized that the district must find a short-term solution for seniors who will be applying to colleges in the coming months.