Despite strong opposition voiced by some students and parents, Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Max McGee is sticking with his recommendation that the high schools continue to report only unweighted grade point averages (GPAs) on students’ transcripts this year. However, he's also recommending the district immediately issue formal letters on behalf of seniors who need the weighted-grade number to qualify for a college scholarship.
McGee explained this short-term recommendation in a letter sent to all district parents on Friday. For the few schools that won't accept an official letter, the district will "provide additional documentation and/or aggressive advocacy on behalf of the student," he wrote.
Long term, he proposed that the district convene an advisory committee to make recommendations to him, and he in turn would make a recommendation to the board before the start of the next school year.
Currently, both Palo Alto and Gunn high school report only unweighted GPAs on transcripts, and counselors from both schools inform students of their weighted average during meetings. Gunn counselors, however, report seniors' weighted GPAs in a section of the Common Application for college admissions, while Paly's do not. Both schools have historically sent letters or contacted schools directly on behalf of students who need their weighted GPA to qualify for a scholarship, staff has said.
McGee also recommended revising the district's focus goals — significant, overarching goals adopted each year that drive the board and district's work — at a January board retreat to "replace items in the work plan with this matter, which has become an important topic and is clearly a priority for the community and the board," he wrote.
The school board will vote on McGee's proposals at its meeting Tuesday evening.
McGee's stance on weighted GPAs is aligned with that of both high schools' principals, their school counselors and psychologists and the majority of teachers and staff. They have said that the potential negatives of reporting weighted GPAs — breeding an unhealthy focus on grades rather than a love of learning, discouraging students from taking non-AP or non-honors courses, and changing a historical practice to handle exceptions rather than the norm — outweigh the positives. They have also noted that colleges and universities have their own processes for reviewing GPAs and take into account the fact that reporting practices vary at many high schools.
Some Paly and Gunn students and parents, however, strongly disagree. More than 20 students and parents, primarily from Gunn, turned out to the Oct. 18 board meeting to urge the board to adopt a new practice — reporting weighted GPAs on official transcripts — to recognize students' hard work in advanced courses and to not deprive them of the choice to report weighted GPAs. While the debate over weighted grades was brought to the full board's attention by a Paly senior who wants her school to report the higher average so she can qualify for a large merit-based scholarship, it has struck a chord with others who perceive their very acceptance to college as at risk.
This week, Gunn parents started an online petition to gather support for their position. As of Friday afternoon, just over 300 people had signed it.
"We thank the board for continuing to look for ways to improve our children's education; but this measure has unintended negative consequences, that perhaps, have not been well thought through," the petition reads.
"This is not a source of stress for our children," the petition continues. "In fact, removal of wGPA will add stress to our children because they will have to stress significantly more over maintaining an A, and preserving their GPA. Most likely the students will opt for the less challenging, non-AP class just to preserve their GPA."
Two other online petitions urging support for weighted GPAs, both started by the same person, and a "Yes on wGPA!" website have also been launched.
McGee has committed to having a uniform practice at both high schools, but only after a committee thoroughly studies the issue with deep input from students, parents, alumni and others, he wrote in his recommendation to the board.
"We understand and empathize with students', parents' and teachers' concerns about admissions and scholarship decisions as well as their concerns about students' health and well-being and therefore want to give any decision regarding long-term practices the diligent attention and depth of thought necessary," he wrote.
McGee also cancelled a Gunn-Paly information session on weighted grades scheduled for Tuesday morning, citing the "extensive student, parent, and teacher input" the potential committee would seek if approved by the board.
Related video: Reporter Elena Kadvany discusses the weighted-grade issue on this week's "Behind the Headlines" webcast, posted here.