The Palo Alto school board has decided to hold a special meeting dedicated to the topic of weighted grade point averages, as the topic has generated an intense level of attention, emotion and even confusion among high school students and parents.
This was reflected at Tuesday’s board meeting, when 40 people, mostly parents, showed up to again speak about weighted GPAs, although it was not an officially agendized item. Many said they were frustrated with the process the board and district has taken this far to address a difference in reporting practices between Palo Alto and Gunn high schools. (Neither school has reported the weighted average on official transcripts sent to colleges and universities, but Gunn counselors have included it in a section of the Common Application.)
While the board voted unanimously earlier this month to report both unweighted and weighted GPAs on current seniors’ transcripts to avoid disadvantaging any students seeking merit-based scholarships or simply admission, the Paly administration pushed back days later, pointing to 145 students who would actually have a lower weighted than unweighted GPA. This is because Paly uses the University of California/California State University methodology for weighting grades, which doesn't count ninth-grade courses nor non-UC approved courses. Gunn uses its own cumulative method for calculating weighted GPA.
Then, last week, Superintendent Max McGee said schools would be giving current seniors the option to report their weighted GPA. And on Tuesday night, he said that he would make a longer term policy recommendation before spring break, next year, but plans to hold a series of meetings with the community and students specifically to gather more feedback.
One parent of a Paly sophomore said he was "shocked" the board was "kicking the can down the road again," expressing concern about a lack of transparency and process.
He called the series of decisions since the board vote on Nov. 1 "somewhat of a willful disregard of the board’s clear will."
Jay Krishna, whose son attends Paly, said there is "rampant misinformation" in the community about weighted GPAs. He urged staff to implement the board's original vote.
"Now it is time for the administrators to comply with that decision in a timely manner and make sure that all students have the best shot at college admissions and scholarships," he said.
Not all speakers, though, supported weighed grades, nor immediate action. Paly parent Lauren Barley made a plea for board "patience" in making any further decisions. Paly senior Sid Sharma, who said he would benefit from a weighted GPA, cautioned the board against making a "hasty" decision on something that could have serious implications, particularly for minority, low-income and special-education students and on student mental health.
A board majority decided a special meeting was needed given the heightened community interest. Trustee Ken Dauber and Vice President Terry Godfrey did not think such a meeting was necessary given a solution has been provided for current seniors. Dauber also requested to defer any special meeting until after new and re-elected board members are seated, rather than bind them to a decision made just weeks before.
"I don't want to be in a situation where we change the rules of the game three times for students," Dauber added.
David Tayeri, Paly’s student board representative, said there’s been a lack of clarity among students with the multiple messages coming from school administrators and district leadership. He told the board that after their Nov. 1 decision, he heard "a lot of criticism" that their decision seemed "rushed."
"Whatever we end up doing, that should be kept in mind," Tayeri said.
The other three trustees, however, favored holding a study session as soon as possible to clarify any confusion around short-term practices at the two schools going forward. They decided to hold the meeting on Monday, Nov. 21, from 4-6 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave.
"I think time is of the essence," outgoing trustee Camille Townsend said.
McGee has also tentatively scheduled an online webinar on weighted grades for Tuesday, Nov. 29, from 7-8:30 p.m.