Palo Alto school board to take action on weighted grades, discuss college enrollment

Other agenda items include equity plan, social-emotional learning update

At the height of the annual college-application process, the Palo Alto school board will hear a timely report Tuesday night on district graduates' college enrollment and vote on a controversial proposal to not report weighted grades on students' official transcripts.

The majority of Palo Alto Unified School District students enroll in four-year colleges and universities after graduation, though minority, low-income and special-education students continue to enroll and complete degrees at lower rates, according to a report to be presented to the board Tuesday.

While white and Asian students enrolled in college at relatively stable high rates from 2012 to 2015, black and Hispanic students in particular lag significantly behind in most years. Special-education students also enroll in college at slightly lower rates, but the gap between them and general-education students has decreased since 2010.

Low-income, minority and special-education students from Palo Alto Unified are also obtaining degrees at lower rates, according to the report. About half of low-income, minority and special-education students from the class of 2010 have completed a degree, compared to 71 percent of their peers. This gap was even more stark in the class of 2008, when only 49 percent of low-income and minority students and 53 percent of special-education students earned degrees, compared to 80 percent of their peers, according to the report.

From the class of 2008 through the class of 2015, graduates enrolled in a college or university within one year after graduation at rates between 78 percent and 87 percent. Most of those students went on to four-year schools, from 72 percent in 2008 to 93 percent in 2015, according to the district.

And while the majority of Palo Alto Unified graduates historically stayed in California, that number has decreased since 2008. In 2015, about half of the graduating class attended schools in California, compared to 73 percent in 2008.

More out-of-state students are attending private than public schools, according to the district. The largest numbers of those who stay in California attend either a University of California (UC) campus or a private institution.

Across the board, Palo Alto Unified graduates stay in college from freshman to sophomore year at high rates, though minority and low-income students are slightly behind their peers.

More than 70 percent of students from the classes of 2008 and 2009 finished school in four years. Twenty-two percent of graduates from those classes took six years to finish.

Due to course naming and archiving practices, the district has inconsistently tracked and reported high school graduates' performance on the A-G college requirements, according to the report. The district is now working with high school staff to "create a more accurate A-G tracking system" and plans to work with an independent consultant to create a new district course master.

In other business Tuesday, the board will look at a draft of a district-wide equity plan to better support underrepresented minority students; hear an update on the district's Social Emotional Learning Curriculum Committee's work; discuss a resolution to support state Proposition 55, which would extend for 12 years the temporary state income-tax bracket for earnings over $250,000 passed in 2012 to help provide additional funding for K-12 public schools and community colleges; and discuss proposed changes to a board policy on major donations. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.

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8 people like this
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 1, 2016 at 10:57 am

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 11:16 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

Wow, the shocking number here is that in the last 7 years, the number of PAUSD grads going to college in California has dropped from 73% to ~50%.

23 people like this
Posted by Defy the Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2016 at 12:03 pm

Defy the Guy is a registered user.

Hopefully, the school board can override Max McGee. Being from another state, It is doubtful he understands the tough competition in California, and the fact that American kids need a break at this point in history!

20 people like this
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 1, 2016 at 12:17 pm

Please don't be confused. Please come out to the board meeting to listen. Please let the data tells the truth: Web Link
Web Link

WGPA empowers ALL PAUSD students, especially underrepresented, minority students, and it aids them in college admissions and scholarship applications.

13 people like this
Posted by observer
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 12:35 pm


21 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 1, 2016 at 1:02 pm

Copying from another thread:

I received an excellent blog post from Board Member Ken Dauber that recommends the following:

Put the UC/CSU weighted gpa opn all transcripts.

I strongly support this proposal and think most parents do as well. It is fair, it is objective, and it gives credit according to a state-certified method to all students. It treats Paly and Gunn equally. It allows our students to get recognized for their hard work but is not grade inflation or just trying to game the system. It is an existing, state-operated system of weighting.

Ken is well-known to be a sensible guy (and our smartest board member by a lot) and he is also strongly for social-emotional well-being. Here is what he says:

"Although I have not yet reached a definitive conclusion on how this should be handled, my thinking at this time is that both high schools should include a weighted GPA on student transcripts in some form. For example, the weighted GPA could appear on all transcripts alongside the unweighted GPA. Alternatively, we could do what Ashland High School in Oregon does, which is to provide a separate transcript to the University of Oregon showing only weighted GPA.

In terms of what courses should be weighted, I believe that the district should use the UC/CSU method, which will be fair and objective and provide students with a clear indication of where they stand for UC/CSU admission. Gunn and Paly currently use their own methods for weighting grades that don't agree with the UC/CSU method or with each other. This does not comply with our board policy or with our commitment to providing comparable educational opportunities at both Paly and Gunn.

In addressing this issue, I am keeping several principles in mind:

The district should put students first and should be mindful of the impact of district policies on student academic stress and social-emotional well-being.

The district should provide weighted GPAs to colleges and universities for those students who can benefit from them for admissions or scholarships.

Paly and Gunn should calculate and report weighted GPAs in the same way

Weighted GPAs should be calculated in a way that is objective and transparent, and that supports the district's educational mission, including offering a wide range of choices for students in our high schools."

He also invited the community to his office hours and to email him with reaction to his proposal: Web Link

I wish we had five of him in terms of common sense, thoughtfulness, intelligence and concern for students. But then we would be a whole different place.

16 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Marie is a registered user.

To penalize and stress our students by refusing to comply with the requirements of many colleges, solely to be able to say you are helping kids be on "a more beneficial path" is sophistry. It is not very beneficial if it means you are less likely to get scholarships instead of loans. Public universities, which are usually the most economically viable choice, do not have the resources to individually evaluate each applicant. They do their first sort by the numbers, however much we wish they would do so differently.

Sadly, if you want a college education, you do have to play the game. That does not mean you have to end up hating learning. My kids found their honors courses (back in the 90's) were their most engaging courses that went much deeper into issues than regular classes. Paly's AP US History was a revelation. It was a lot of work but I was so impressed with the curriculum and how it really taught my kids how to understand history. And they really liked the class. I didn't get that level of teaching until college. Taking honors and AP math and science classes meant they were able to skip introductory classes in college and make room for more electives in humanities. They would not have been able to take those initial philosophy and anthropology courses if they had not been able to waive 2-3 math and science requirements.

The fact is, most of our students are college bound. They can't change the system. We know that for most kids, a college degree is what it takes to succeed in what they want to do. It is not for everyone. I love and respect my many relatives who are great successes without a college degree. But the reality is that most of the children in Palo Alto are going on to college. Our high schools should be helping them do so even if some of the requirements of the colleges are nonsensical. We can't change that.

The real answer to relieving stress is not to do it by reducing the load on Administrators by not having them calculate weighted GPA's (and why don't they just use the UC method since so many of our kids go there?), but rather, as many others have stated, enforce the homework policy, provide better, more individualized counseling, and enforce standard grading methodology. Today some students get different grades for the same efforts because some teachers think it enhances their reputation if they only give a limited number of A's as opposed to giving an A to anyone who masters the material. Grades should be about mastery of the material, not being in the top 5% of the class. When a child gets a 5 on an AP test but gets a B or even C in the class, there is something very wrong.

And our $200K+ paid administrators can't even put together a consistent method to track students who meet UC's A-G requirements, now a requirement for graduation? They need a consultant to do this? This is ridiculous. Let's get rid of half the administrators since their main job seems to be being a liaison to consultants who do the real work. Let's find people who can do the job, not just supervise other people doing real work.

13 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 1:44 pm

Dear All,

A few responses and a little background:

1) As PALY Principal Kim Diorio reported in her propsal, PALY has an electronic transcript reporting system. Reprogramming that system to add wGPA should not be a large effort for administrators.

2) The UC/CSU method does not include any freshman year grades and does not include all honor classes. This does not fairly represent the effort of the students or their expectations, particularly given how high achieving our District is.
As Dr. McGee reported, our students perform on standardized tests much better than CA schools and Nationwide schools. Our top 85% in math matches the nations top 15% according to Dr. McGee's report

3) Approximately 75% of schools in the US use the wGPA on the transcript. In addition, a few years ago the District looked at wGPA practices at schools/districts to which we compare our District, and only 2 of the schools did not use wGPA. Consequently we are putting our own students at a disadvantage by not reporting the wGPA for Freshman through Senior year on the transcript, particularly for scholarship recipients.

4) Only 50% of colleges recalculate GPA, so unless it's on the transcript, for those colleges our students miss out. In addition, even for those that recalculate, the larger schools likely are using the reported GPA as a cut off. This would explain the interesting fact that colleges are more likely to accept a student who reports a wGPA.

5) My opinion:
--wGPA is fair
--Students have worked hard with the expectation of weighting for honors and AP courses.
--We need to respect that hard work, particularly where scholarships are at stake.
--Student debt is at an all time high. Let's help our kids keep the debt down.

3 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 1:52 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

We have a school board election 1 week from today, and the school board is ultimately the group that will decide whether to override Max McGee and Kim Diorio. So I'm concerned that the positions of the candidates on weighted grades has not been made clear, because I would vote based on this issue alone.

Like this comment
Posted by observer
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 2:09 pm

By the way, the CU Boulder scholarship money is only for in-state Colorado students.

2 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 2:18 pm

In terms of CU merit scholarships, from their website:

Web Link

Out-of-State Students
Chancellor's Achievement Scholarship
The Chancellor's Achievement Scholarship is available to out-of-state students who are in the top 25% of the admitted nonresident class at CU Boulder.

Presidential Scholarship
The Presidential scholarship is available to out-of-state students who are in the top 1-3% of the admitted nonresident class at CU Boulder. Your admissions application must be submitted by January 15 to be considered for this scholarship.

9 people like this
Posted by Another Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 1, 2016 at 2:19 pm

People like "concerned parent" seem to be just interested in grade inflation and juicing transcripts. Why should freshman grades count? Why should classes designated as H be counted if the UC/CSU FACULTY did not rate them sufficiently rigorous for honors credit. You can't just want to advantage your student. You have to want a fair and objective and neutral standard.

All honors are not created equal. You should not get the same credit for 9th grade honors english as you do for AP Chemistry. That's ridiculous.

Weighting GPA is NOT the same as INFLATING GPA. That seems like what some parents want. I support Ken Dauber's idea. It is the only fair way.

9 people like this
Posted by bigger is better here
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 1, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Maybe one GPA weighting method as Ken Dauber suggests is better than another but IF consistency between the two high schools is a goal (it is), IF time is an issue this year (and it is), and IF PAUSD decides to put weighted GPAs on the transcripts tonight, they should use Gunn's method which is already coded in Gunn's computer system so easy to move over to Paly.

Otherwise you'd have to redo Paly AND Gunn's weighted GPA calculations, which at Gunn have already been sent to 100s of colleges for early action/decision - deadline today - on both the student's and counselor's Common App forms.

Then, Dr. McGee can have a committee investigate the different weighted GPA methods and which one is better.

Based on what I understand though Gunn's is better than the UC's since it includes easier-A non a-g classes so produces a higher GPA than a student's unweighted one. Gunn's higher weighted GPA means more students cross the GPA threshold for scholarships, which is good, right?

Parent above says that the "district should put students first and should be mindful of the impact of district policies on student academic stress and social-emotional well-being." Gunn's method does that.

7 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 4:19 pm

"People like "concerned parent" seem to be just interested in grade inflation and juicing transcripts. Why should freshman grades count? Why should classes designated as H be counted if the UC/CSU FACULTY did not rate them sufficiently rigorous for honors credit. You have to want a fair and objective and neutral standard. "

I agree there's room to discuss this. But I don't see why we'd jump to the UC/CSU standard - that would be letting them dictate our policy, and we don't even know the basis of theirs! As another poster suggested, Gunn already has a wGPA policy and a number they provide on the common app. It seems quite easy and fair to go with that for now, and then we can figure out if there is something we like better.

4 people like this
Posted by Tiger in my tank
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 1, 2016 at 5:17 pm

It's so clear from the above two comments that what parents really want is inflated gap not weighted gpa. This is so transparent in the statements like Gunn includes "easier A" classes that would give a higher gpa "and isn't that what we want."

No. that isn't what "we" want. That's ridiculous. Thanks to Dauber for a sensible proposal that is exposing this self dealing special pleading attitude.

[Portion removed.]

13 people like this
Posted by Leland Manor mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 1, 2016 at 6:23 pm

How odd to calculate a weighted GPA, share it informally with students, but not record it on their transcripts - relying instead of some colleges to do so, some of the time, in a country where 8 out of 10 schools record both unweighted and weighted GPAs on transcripts.

Actually, not odd. Irresponsible.

This is not about grade inflation. It is about reflecting academic effort and achievement - just like in the majority of schools in the county and country.

HS is about preparing students for college. True concern for their welfare should extend beyond their graduation date. True concern for their welfare should extend to easing the stress of the complex and daunting college application process.

4 people like this
Posted by bigger is better here
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 1, 2016 at 6:48 pm


[Portion removed.] Gunn's is better for students who aren't taking many or any APs.

Take a 9th grader who takes 6 classes and PE and gets 5 As (one of them in PE) and 2 Bs. Same in 10th grade. Same in 11th grade too but instead of PE he takes a different non-a-g course. None are weighted.

Gunn's GPA = 3.71.

UC's which doesn't include PE = 3.67.

Which would you rather have - Gunn's or UCs - if you are applying for a scholarship whose GPA cut off is 3.7 or over?

As for the 11th grader with two of those classes weighted:

Gunn's GPA = 3.81.

UC's which doesn't include PE = 3.78.

Gunn's is still better. The 2 weighted GPA class student's bump up is not as big as the student's with no weighted classes' bump.

9 people like this
Posted by wake up
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 1, 2016 at 7:08 pm

Why does pausd want to increase stress on the students who are actually interested in being challenged? if a kid wanted all As, (s)he could make sure to just take easier courses and protect gpa. instead of encouraging the love of learning by letting kids challenge themselves by taking harder courses and making sure that they are rewarded for the effort, the district wants to censure them!!!!!!!

wake up and reduce stress on our students while giving them the encouragement to take more challenging courses....

also, why add stress by pushing our kids behind 80% of the country that already does wGPA???

McGee, wake up!

1 person likes this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2016 at 7:11 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Tiger in my tank - As bigger said, you have it backwards. The narrower the list of courses that provide extra weighting, the more intense the competition for those classes. It's unfortunate that the UC system has a limited list, but expanding past it is helpful for non-UC applications, and provides more opportunity for more students to find areas in which to excel. That said, Dauber proposal is much much better than not weighting at all.

Like this comment
Posted by Out of 5?
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 2, 2016 at 6:02 am

So will it be out of 5 rather than 4? Since it's weighted now, the highest gpa grade that can be earned is a 5.0. So your grade is a 3.whatever out of 5.0?

1 person likes this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 6, 2016 at 4:16 pm

The biggest problem with this is that it adds pressure to these already vastly overcooked children.

yet again, palo alto has its priorities skewed. Are more suicides going to happen now?

3 people like this
Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2016 at 9:01 am

Dear all,
We need to stay with the facts on this hot button topic.
1) Neither CDC or Challenge Success studies has connected the suicides to the course offerings or existed weighted grading in our District.
2) As someone posted above, our students are losing spots at UCs and attending out of state public schools. In 2008, 7% attended out of state public and 22% UCs, in 2014 14% percent attended out of state public and 15% UCs, and then trend isn't stopping. The cost of out of state public is a large burden. Parents have not called every school, but Palo Alto parents have verified by phone the following list: Miami University (Ohio), University of Alabama, University of Colorado (Boulder), University of Indiana (Bloomington, Indiana), and University of Iowa, as well as Foothill and DeAnza locally. More information is needed about this. The burden out of state tuition over instate can rival private, at an addition $20-$30K per year.
3) Our students are excellent students, so they know from day 1 that colleges are looking at grades, standardized tests and extracurriculars. Yes, it's holistic, but grades are on this list. Would we tell them not to report extracurricular rewards because not everyone got one on the team?
4) 9% of our students do not attend college. wGPA will not impact them.
5) 15% of our students do not complete their a-g UC requirements. wGPA will not impact them.
6) 40% of our students do not take honors or AP classes. If we exclude the 15% who do not complete their a-g requirements, we have 25% of our student body who should be encouraged to challenge themselves.
6) The UC gpa that Paly has given students is an eligibility GPA. In fact, UC recalculates this GPA. It calculates a UC unweighted GPA (only a-g classes) and for some campuses, like Cal, a fully weighted a-g GPA, which does not cap the number of honors/AP UC designated classes.
7) The UC gpa omits honors weighting for 4 grade 9 and 10 classes that are quite rigorous for Paly and Gunn students.
8) There are more non-STEM honors and AP classes at Paly/Gunn, but the non-STEM classes are not available in grades 9 and 10 unless a student has accelerated in a language.
9) 50% of colleges do not recalculate GPA.
10) Over 75% over high schools calculate and report weighted GPA grades 9-12. Over 80% of our benchmark and local schools calculate and report weighted GPA grades 9-12. According to their web sites, our local area schools, Los Altos, MVHS, Los Gatos, Menlo-Atherton, Carlmont, Saratoga reports weighted GPA. Fremont district does not, though Monta Vista seems to. Lowell in SF does, but it excludes PE.

3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2016 at 11:23 pm

Not all Weighted GPA's are created equal.

It appears to me that the UC method is very limited: it does not count grades from freshmen year, any PE, Music, journalism classes, to name a few. This is the one currently advocated by the Paly admins and the School Board. This is NOT the method used by Gunn High School.

The method used by Gunn, which has been in place for the past decade or so, and is advocated by a lot of the Pro-Weighted GPA parents, is one that calculates the GPA using ALL classes from ALL years. Seems to me that this one would help kids to take classes of their interest (because grades from all classes would count) and also encourage taking some risks with by trying some weighted honors/AP courses.

Other important facts:

More students' weighted GPAs will RISE with the Gunn's method than the UC method.
NO students' weighted GPA will be lowered with Gunn's method.
Some student's weighted GPA will lower with the UC method.

Here is my thinking: Paly and Gunn students do not live in a bubble. Fair or unfair, right or wrong, the pressure is coming from the colleges. Our family toured many mid-tier colleges where reps ranked course rigor, GPA, and standardized test scores as top criteria for admissions. If a kid wants to go to college, telling them not to worry is not going to make the stress go away.

In the same way, Paly admins isn't going to lower students stress by telling them not to stress (and not reporting weighted GPA's.)

Paly will now optionally report UC Weighted GPA's. Many students will not choose this (and thus petitioned for unweighted GPAs) because in many cases a student's weighted GPA will actually be lower than the unweighted GPA. Furthermore, this method is only relevant in the context of a UC application.

If Paly will optionally report a weighted GPA using Gunn's method, then there is no pressure from any student that the weighted GPA will be lowered. Most/many would benefit, and no one will end up with a lower weighted GPA.

Paly students applying to colleges are compared against transcripts of students from schools of same demographics in our region, most of which report Weighted GPAs. Why should we artificially pull them down with a unweighted GPA or an irrelevant UC weighted GPA? I think that would create more stress.

I support to optionally report a weighted GPA using the Gunn method. It's not perfect, but between the two methods, I think it's better because it doesn't pull grades down. It encourages kids to try honors classes without feeling the need to get a "A" because it's weighted. Of course, we parents should always help our kids take a balanced coarse load, keep a healthy outlook, etc.

Lastly, if the UC method is better for others, why not allow all students to choose EITHER the Gunn method or the UC method in calculating the weighted GPA? We need to support our students in this tough environment created by the college admissions world. Living in this high power, high pressured area, we adults appreciate any boost we can get at life. Paly touts that it has been using unweighted GPAs for three decades. A lot has changed since then, and weighted GPA has become the norm in college evaluations. Instead of denying its existence or denying its importance, we should come up with a method that will support our kids.

4 people like this
Posted by it's pretty simple
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 18, 2016 at 5:28 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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