At a special meeting Monday night, the Palo Alto school board wrangled through multiple motions, amendments and an audience of vocal parents before settling on a final short-term solution for reporting weighted grade point averages this year.
The board voted unanimously to report both cumulative unweighted and weighted GPAs on current seniors' transcripts, giving an additional grade point for each honors and Advanced Placement class designated as such in the schools' respective course catalogs. The board also voted to give Palo Alto High School seniors the option of reporting an additional weighted average, as calculated by the University of California/California State University method.
The board opted to provide the third option for Paly students because their school has historically used the UC/CSU methodology for weighting, which doesn't count any freshman-year classes or non-UC approved courses. Gunn, on the other hand, has used its own cumulative weighting method.
They made this particular GPA optional in case there are any Paly seniors whose UC/CSU GPA would be lower than the other two averages.
The decision came after much back and forth with school counselors from both high schools, who expressed concerns about ensuring fairness for all students, preventing confusion that could hurt students' scholarship or admission chances and protecting the high schools' "credibility" with colleges and universities after making a series of different decisions in recent weeks on how to report weighted grades. After the board voted earlier this month to report both weighted and unweighted GPAs, Paly sent 181 revised transcripts to colleges and universities on behalf of 42 seniors who requested them. (Gunn counselors already report the weighted average in counselor report sections on applications, so the school didn't have to send out any revisions.)
"I think that's very confusing to colleges that get multiple applicants from the same high school" with different GPAs, said Paly college adviser Sandra Cernobori. She later said she supported giving alls seniors the option because it had already been offered to students who applied early admission this fall.
"The kids come first," Vice President Terry Godfrey said. "We're in a 'do no harm' situation for every kid.
"Our job is to make sure our reputation is sterling and we have good relationships with the schools but job one is 'do no harm,'" she said.
The board members and counselors considered the impact of different reporting and weighting practices, from what it would take to weight courses that students take off campus, such as at local community colleges, to a proposal to report four different GPAs on students' official transcripts (cumulative weighted and unweighted as well as the weighted and unweighted UC/CSU averages).
Many parents in the crowd sighed and sometimes even yelled out "no" to floated proposals they didn't support.
Trustee Ken Dauber worried the board was caught in a "scope creep" of trying to solve issues at a micro-level from the dais. He said students had told him they felt like the board was "on a runaway train" with the weighted GPA issue.
"My experience of this issue so far as a board member is that its a case study in the law of unintended consequences," Dauber said. "I'm very mindful of the fact that we are not going to be able to discern for every student at this very critical point in their high school career the consequences of the decision that we're making, which is why i really want to be guided by the 'change as little as possible' in order to get through this without doing unintended harm."
Dauber made the motion, supported unanimously by his colleagues, to make the UC/CSU GPA optional rather than mandated for Paly seniors to prevent any unanticipated consequences. Trustee Melissa Baten Caswell made the proposal to add weight to designated honors and AP courses, rather than the superintendent's recommendation to include all ninth through twelfth grade classes categorized as A-G graduation requirements.
Dauber also made a failed amendment, supported only by Godfrey, to give additional points for only those courses already designated as weighted at each school, rather than to introduce a new method.
Outgoing Trustee Camille Townsend made the initial motion that the board ultimately supported in a 5-0 vote.
Board President Heidi Emberling reiterated that she wants to avoid putting the "burden" on students or families to ask for a particular GPA.
"Providing it automatically is important to me, in a place that matters," she said.
Paly and Gunn counselors also stressed that many colleges simply look at the highest GPA listed, describing a rushed and highly impacted application review process.
"High numbers when you have high volume is going to pay off in the long run," said Linda Kirsch, Gunn's longtime college and career counselor.
"It isn't just about the kids," she added. "It's about the parents who are paying the bills. There's a lot of concern this year like I've never heard before — the cost of the education is really scary."
Because the meeting was a special session, public comment was to be taken at the end rather than the beginning. The meeting ran over, so there was no public comment section.
While the district seems to have reached a final decision on how to handle what quickly became a contentious issue for this year, a long-term policy decision has yet to have been made. Superintendent Max McGee has committed to making a recommendation to the board before April 1, and soliciting ample community input along the way in public meetings, focus groups and online webinars. The first webinar is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 29, from 7-8:30 p.m. McGee and the board have also said that long term, they plan to align methodology and reporting practices between the two high schools.
"There's a long-term solution out there," McGee said at the start of Monday's meeting. "We have not found it yet."