Education board, community weigh in on weighted grades

An audience of about 50 people gathered inside Wilton High School’s Little Theater on Thursday, April 23, for a Board of Education public hearing on weighted grades.
“The topic was introduced a couple of months ago and the Communication, Alignment and Policy Committee began to explore it, and they and I have learned that it’s not a simple yes-no, weighted or not question,” said Superintendent Kevin Smith. “It’s multi-dimensional.”
Before taking comments and questions from the public, the board had experts from the Wilton community share their thoughts and address questions about weighted grades.
“Grade weighting is giving additional grade points in some manner for honors, Advanced Placement or some other courses,” said Matt Greene, independent educational consultant and Wilton resident.
“It is not a fast-and-hard formula — sometimes it means adding a point or half-point for an honors or advanced class; other times it means multiplying a grade by a particular factor.”
Greene, who works with and counsels college-bound students from Wilton and other districts across the country, said there is not one accepted standard grading system in Connecticut, the United States or internationally.
“Research does suggest that about 70% more schools in the U.S. do use some form of weighting,” he said, “but there’s no commonly agreed upon best practice or standard for this.”

Pros and cons

According to Greene, some pros of un-weighted systems, include:

  • No questions about which classes get what weight or when or how much.

  • Transparency — what you see is what you get (an A is an A, a B is a B, etc.).

  • Students may take tougher classes because they want to and not for a GPA benefit.

Greene said a con of un-weighted grading is that students may avoid taking AP or honors courses out of fear of not doing well.
Pros of weighted grading include:

  • It may encourage students to take more challenging classes.

  • It rewards students who take harder classes with a GPA boost that reflects the course level.

  • Schools can give colleges two GPAs and let them use whichever GPA system they choose.

  • There are better odds for students when it comes to scholarships.

According to Greene, cons of weighted grading include:

  • There may be confusion or lack of clarity about how weighting is done.

  • It may lead students to push for honors or AP classes they’re not ready for or interested in.

  • It may make non-weighted classes look easier.

  • It may make students feel inferior for taking lower classes.

“In my overall conclusion here, there’s not a clear advantage to weighted grading systems to unweighted,” said Greene.   “Many ... strong public and private schools do not weight grades and they have very strong success records with college admissions.”

College admission

Wilton High School College Career Resource Center counselor Christine Collins said the most important factor in the college application process is the application and the transcript — “the rigor of the transcript, the courses and the grades in those courses,” she said.
According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, Collins said, “GPA is not even listed as a consideration” in the application process. The first considerations, she said, are grades and strength of curriculum.
Collins said 56% of college-bound seniors of the 2014 Wilton class are currently attending “the most competitive colleges and universities” in the country.
“Schools are made aware of our grading policy. They are made aware of it on our Wilton High School profile,” said Collins.
“All reps who visit the [College Career Resource Center] during our informational sessions … review this profile with me, and one of the most important parts is when I point out the statement that we do not weight our grades.”
Collins said despite a school’s grading system, “colleges and universities will recalculate — they have their own system and add their own weight if they so desire.”

Impact and concerns

Greene said a “very important point” to consider when deciding whether to weight grades or not is “how it [could] affect the culture of the school, the values of the Wilton community and the impact on different kinds of students in the high school.”
Wilton High School science teacher Jim Lucey said weighted grades would increase student anxiety and stress levels because “the pressure of weighted grades would be an added pull for students to take AP and honors level courses.”
This, he said, would place “students in situations who are not emotionally nor intellectually ready for [the] curriculum.”
“Students who are not appropriately placed exhibit a sense of heightened anxiety over grades and often a myopic vision on the course in question at the expense of all their other classes,” said Lucey.
“These students often feel continually behind and frustrated that they are not getting the concepts or seeing the connections as quickly or easily as their peers.”
Wilton High School social worker Kim Zemo said she has seen an increase in “significant mental health concerns among students” over the years.
“Along with that increase, what has been strikingly different in the last several years is that it’s impacting our high achievers,” she said. “They’re having more and more difficulty managing and coping with the demands being put on them.”
According to Zemo, there has been a shift in who uses Wilton High School's program for students with emotional and behavioral concerns. About 25% of students utilizing the services, Zemo said, are high-achieving students.
“These high-achieving students who are taking honors and AP courses are needing more and more support,” she said.
“That’s really a concern to me, in terms of weighting grades — that it increases those pressures even more for our student population.”
When it comes to school climate, Zemo said, 60% of Wilton High School students have reported being stressed “all or most of the time.”
“Overall, my concern is [what the] impact of weighting grades would be on the mental health and the culture and climate within the school,” she said.
The education board is welcoming community members to send questions regarding weighted grades and Wilton High School to
The board plans to discuss the topic again at its next meeting, on Thursday, May 28, at 7 p.m. in the Wilton High School Professional Library.