EFFINGHAM — A group called “In Search of Excellence” presented Monday its research to the Unit 40 Board of Education on how having weighted grades at Effingham High School will reflect in students' GPA, more college scholarships and getting into better colleges.
The board agreed it needs more time to digest the information presented during the past couple months from the administration, teachers and parents. No vote was taken on Monday at the Unit 40 board meeting. Last month, the administration presented its own study and recommended against using weighted grades.
This topic has been discussed for several months. A committee of teachers and administrators in January recommended that the board not adopt weighted grades, saying there's no research that shows schools that have them are favored by college admissions.
Weighted grades or classes refer to those that are deemed difficult enough to warrant a higher grade point than other standard courses. For instance, a weighted course may offer a 5.0 for an A while a standard course offers a 4.0 for an A.
Three members of the ISOE parent group spoke: Laura Hardiek, Kim Stanfield and Libby Moeller. They said implementing a weighted grade scale makes school similar to the real world – and to all other schools in the Apollo Conference. Schools in the conference are Lincoln, Taylorville, Mahomet-Seymour, Charleston, Mattoon and Mt. Zion.
Three staff members of Unit 40, teachers Joe Fatheree and Jim Hammer, and Counselor Tara Raddatz also spoke on the teaching side of the weighted grades issue.
Fatheree said the staff is there to support all students. He said he's been investigating the topic for a few years. But, most recently, he helped on the volunteer group to investigate weighted grades.
“From a teacher's perspective, this is not a labor issue,” said Fatheree. “This is not going to change the rigor of my class.”
He reiterated stats that were presented last month by the teacher's committee, stating that the majority of EHS students are taking tougher classes.
EHS students often take higher-level classes: 70 percent of seniors are taking a dual-credit English class; 46 percent of the students are taking chemistry; 67 percent of juniors and seniors are taking upper-level science classes beyond graduation requirements; 43 percent of the students are taking four years of math; and when it comes to foreign language, 75 percent are freshmen, 57 percent are sophomores, 32 percent are juniors.
In the ISOE's proposal, an additional point would be added to dual-credit courses, level three and four classes and honors classes. They explained their calculations by using a fictional student taking seven classes who ended with a 3.28 GPA. Compared to that same student with three weighted classes among those same seven classes, the GPA resulted in 3.71.
About a year ago, the Unit 40 school board began looking at the district's grading scale, and agreed to investigate a weighted grade system. The new 90/80/70/60 grading scale was approved in May 2018, and took effect this school year following a 7-0 vote.
“This (the new grade scale) was done to level the playing field with other schools in the Apollo Conference,” said Hardiek. “Many other schools in that conference already have the 10-point system. This change was made to give our students the same chance at scholarships as students in the Apollo Conference.”
But Hardiek said weighted grades were not addressed when the new grade scale was discussed.
“Each school in the Apollo Conference, with the exception of Unit 40, has a weighted system, and has had one for a number of years,” said Hardiek. “The schools in the Apollo Conference were used as a guidepost to change our grading scale to match. It's our request that the same guidepost be used for the implementation of weighted grades.”
The parent group suggests that weighted grades would challenge Unit 40 students to achieve their absolute best, said Stanfield. Weighted grade scales affect class rank, which is part of the criteria for scholarships; and unweighted grade scales do not accurately represent the rigor of the class work.
“One of the top factors that more selective schools look at, for admission into certain programs, is the rigor of the classes that students have taken,” said Stanfield. “A weighted GPA demonstrates very quickly how many advanced classes a student has taken and his or her performance in them. An unweighted GPA simply does not capture that aspect of a student's course load.”
An “A” in an upper-level class equals a “B” in a regular class due to the rigor of the coursework, she said. Weighted classes appropriately reward students for courses that come with higher skill set and one that has higher expectations, Stanfield said.
Scholarship committees are often comprised of businesses, foundations and nonprofit groups, which don't have specialists to unravel each student's applications and deciphering class loads. Having a weighted grade makes it easy to discern the top students by looking at the GPA, Stanfield said.
Moeller said some colleges have a hard GPA cut-off for scholarship eligibility, so an unweighted GPA could hurt students' chances of getting a scholarship at some colleges. With college tuition costs at an all-time high, weighted grades benefits all students to be given whatever advantage they can get in terms of admissions and scholarships, she said.
“We are putting our students at a disadvantage to compete for scholarships,” said Moeller. “All other schools in the Apollo Conference offer a grade system with weighted grades. They need to be implemented together to work properly for all students.”
Fatheree, a multimedia teacher at EHS, said students tell him that weighted grades won't encourage them to take more challenging classes. Some are fearful of certain subjects, such as math and science, and having it weighted won't matter.
“Because of a lot of mandates, a lot of electives are going away,” said Fatheree.
He said some of his students are concerned they won't have many things from which to choose. Some have to work outside of school and can't handle the extra work of a weighted grade class.
Fatheree called several selective university's admission counselors, including Harvard, Northwestern, University of Illinois, University of Michigan, Michigan State, University of Florida, St. Louis University and Rose Hulman.
“They are looking at the whole child and what the child is bringing to the table,” said Fatheree. “They are looking for the ACT and SAT score; the rigor of the classwork that they've had in your school.”
Many of these schools, including Harvard, have too many different grading scales from students all over the world. They expect any student to perform the highest they can on their school's grading scale. Plus, they ask how involved is the student as a leader in their community and school, especially in their chosen major, Fatheree said.
In a 2017 study based on a high school in Massachusetts, “What if Weighted GPAs are Meaningless?” Fatheree said he took information from a study of 100 different highly competitive colleges.
Asked whether the Wayland High School students would be hurt if their GPAs all went down by ending weighting — and the transcripts made clear that there was no weighting — the response was unanimous. The college officials all said that it would make no difference, and many said that they already remove the weighting before even considering an applicant's grades. Their practice is to give an extra point for higher difficult classes.
Fatheree added that student stress and suicide rate are climbing and although he can't tie it directly to this topic, he said it should be considered. Suicide rate in young teens has risen from 2006 to 2017, by 75 percent, he said.
Hammer, a social studies teacher, said there are some classes that are just more difficult, because it is the first time they see the material, such as government and chemistry. There are a lot of factors that go into making a class a weighted grade.
“A weighted-grade class won't necessarily guarantee a better academic outcome,” said Hammer. “Regardless of the classes you are taking, if you get a 'B' in a weighted-grade class, you are doing 'B' work, not 'A' work. You can't change the grading scale based on the level of difficulty of the class.”
Also, Hammer said, there is no universal grade scale. There is no consensus in the Apollo Conference as to weighted grades, because they all use different systems, Hammer said.
School Counselor Raddatz said she looks at what is most appropriate for a specific student. Some may take all advanced classes, but others may not. She asked the board and parents to consider, is CTEC or manufacturing classes less important than a dual-credit class?