Palo Alto school board votes, again, on weighted GPA

Trustees seek solution that will not disadvantage any students

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."


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3 people like this
Posted by WHAT A MESS
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2016 at 9:31 am

You know that you didn't even report the results of the vote, right? This was a 3-2 decision to wreak havoc on student transcripts in the middle of the application process. I can't believe Linda Kirsch even works for this district anymore let alone that she is weighing in on something as consequential as this. What kind of advice is that: "higher is better." [Portion removed.]

This was a 3-2 decision with Ken and Terry voting NO to stop this "runaway train" of ridiculous changes in the middle of application season.

The goal was supposed to be to get a weighted GPA on a transcript for some girl who wanted one for Oregon. Now instead of solving that small problem we have changed everything for everyone. Camille aways wants to inflate everytihng about the district performance, so no surprise there. Melissa's vote makes sense -- this is how she narrowly got re-elected, by whipping the [portion removed] parent community into a frenzy over their kids college chances. Heidi makes no sense since this is the precise group of parents that resoundingly rejected her and I am not sure what she owes them. In a way, her support for this illustrated the very reasons she lost. [Portion removed.]

Thanks to Terry and Ken for trying to put students first. Hopefully Todd and Jennifer will be better. [Portion removed.]

And since I am passing out blame, let's give the lion's share to Kim Diorio for being stubborn and uncompromising and to Max for being such a lousy manager that he really should not have the job he does. That is just so obvious. What doesn't he screw up?

This served no one well, and least of all our students. WHy not just give every white and Asian and non-IEP PAUSD senior a 5.0 and get it over with -- that's going to be the basic result here. We have no weighted freshman honors english the same weight as AP-Chem.

What about the budget? Or the poor kid in the bullying story at Jordan? [Portion removed.]

25 people like this
Posted by Fact checker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 22, 2016 at 12:57 pm

@What a mess.

Some facts:
1. It was unanimous, as reported. I watched it. The only vote that was not unanimous was whether to report UCs optionally. Camille voted against.
2. We need staff input and we received a lot last night. Mrs. Kirsch was asked questions that she answered based on her many years of experience and direct contact with college admissions officers. What is your experience?
3. Your race comment should be deleted. It is harmful and untrue.
4. Why were Ken and Terry putting students first? Why does weighting hurt students? Weighting doesn't create an achievement gap. It puts a magnifying glass on it so we can all see the problem more clearly. It's a problem the District needs to fix.
5. There is no freshman honors English class at Paly. Is there one at Gunn?
6. Dr. McGee and Ms. Diorio report to the Board. This is not the venue to call them out personally. If we want them to respect the community, we must respect them. Contact the Board with your strong opinions please.

11 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 22, 2016 at 1:47 pm

According to the story Dauber and Godfrey voted to keep Paly on the same weights but were outvoted by Caswell and the two outgoing board members. Now Paly students have a new weighting system in the middle of college apps. What a mess.

11 people like this
Posted by sigh
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 22, 2016 at 3:04 pm

"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."

Is it really that difficult to read the article?

42 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2016 at 3:32 pm

I do agree with the comment that the Paly Principal created a lot more drama and controversy by being so stubborn on using the UC/CSU method for calculating the weighted GPA, rather than using the Gunn method.

Since Paly never reported weighted GPA, Paly could have chosen any method, and choosing the Gunn Method would have settled this matter quite a few weeks ago, rather than prolonging a resolution to this issue.

25 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 22, 2016 at 6:17 pm

There was a simple solution: provide traditional weighted GPA to the students who request it. Instead, Diorio and McGee hijacked the debate and turned it into a "Paly vs Gunn" GPA-standardization debate and utterly failed to address the issue at hand. I don't even know why we're considering putting UC/CSU GPA on transcripts - it's useless because it's a "3 year GPA" and not fully weighted (which is what the universities in question require). Plus UC's and CSU's reweight anyway (unlike the universities in question) so it's not like we're saving them any effort! Yet somehow Diorio favors this over traditional GPA weighting...

Here is a (bias) timeline of the events:

On October 16, the Paly Voice reports that weighted GPA will be on the board agenda. Web Link

GPA is listed on the October 18 board agenda Web Link . McGee includes a part that indicates he doesn't care if Paly students lose out on 'free money' and have to take out loans or not attend college. "If the University of Oregon declines not to accept our letter that contains the weighted GPA, they may lose some of our talented students to out of state universities that will accept it. In any case, our grading practices should not be determined by University of Oregon but by what is best for the vast majority of students."

In a position paper, it is acknowledged that "Paly provides a school profile that includes GPA deciles" which seems to indicate that we already *have* a student-ranking system (admittedly a weak one). I'm not really sure how weighting GPA's changes this. Web Link . The paper also says "But that is not what weighted GPA conveys to students. By placing more weight on Honors and AP classes, weighted GPA conveys the idea that these courses are worth more, or better, than others. So, naturally, students want to be the best. They load up on AP and honors courses at the expense of their mental and emotional health because they think it will help them get into college, rather than out of an innate curiosity." It never addresses the argument that maybe weighted GPA allows students to take advanced classes they have an innate curiosity for, without fear that doing slightly worse (say, a B in an AP class instead of an A in a regular-lane class) will negatively impact their college applications .

17 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 22, 2016 at 6:17 pm

(two posts because too many URL's for one)

In a report on the meeting on the 18, it becomes clear that the issue is how to align GPA-reporting at Paly and Gunn, not actually addressing the issue at hand (i.e. providing a way to get a weighted transcript. A traditionally weighted one, NOT UC/CSU weighted). Web Link

November 2: The Paly Voice reports that by using US/CSU weighted GPA - which Diorio favors over traditional weighted GPA - "at least 50 students will be negatively affected [by this decision]. Those students, according to Diorio, tend to be low-income, historically underrepresented, and students with Individual Education Programs." Web Link

Presumably these would be students who did well their freshman year and can use that as a buffer (UC/CSU GPA doesn't use freshman year GPA as much). Now, if traditionally weighted GPA were used, these students would have at worst their unweighted GPA (if I recall, the unweighted GPA includes freshman year). So they wouldn't be "negatively impacted." Not to mention that reporting UC/CSU GPA does NOT address the initial issue - getting full, 4-year weighted GPAs for students applying to universities with merit scholarships. A 3-year GPA - which is more or less what the UC/CSU weighting is - will not be accepted by most of these universities. So why is the board even considering it as an option?

On Nov 4, the Paly Voice reports that there will be no further action until the next board meeting. Web Link

41 people like this
Posted by Almost got depressed
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 22, 2016 at 8:10 pm

Its hard to imagine it took four meetings and over 10 hours of open debate to handle such a small and obvious issue. I went to all of them and think the issue should have been solved much more quickly.

UC wgpa is a local scoring system and is not cumulative. It does not cover 9th grade at all. The weighted courses are designated. Its not accepted by most colleges.

No matter whether you report UC wgpa or not, UC will recalculate it.

Cumulative wgpa, used by Gunn, is accepted by Common App, and most colleges.

Now, please use some basic logic to figure out if it makes sense to only report UC wgpa on the transcript. Unfortunately, that's what Ken and Terry supported at the beginning.

Fortunately, this board outvoted them. I have no clue why they thought that way. To put students first? Sorry, no.

36 people like this
Posted by Naive parent assumed adpditional point for AP and honors
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 22, 2016 at 8:39 pm

Naive parent assumed adpditional point for AP and honors is a registered user.

As a possibly naive parent, I assumed that like every other parent I know, my son would receive an extra point for AP and honors classes. Naively, I also assumed that all four years of high school grades counted towards my sons GPA. I find it distressing that such a high achieving district - which frankly is why most people with kids move here, would not report grades in the expected, common manner.

35 people like this
Posted by Green Acres parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 22, 2016 at 9:00 pm

Elena Kadvany, while I understand the desire to keep it short, your article missed several key facts that I think your readers deserve to know.

1. You mentioned that "many parents in the crowd sighed and sometimes even yelled out 'no' to floated proposals they didn't support" but didn't mention who made these proposals. Why not indicate that these were Ken Dauber's proposals?

2. You didn't mention that Linda Kirsch showed the board a book from 2005 which indicated the policy at that time was to report weighted GPAs at both schools, a policy that wasn't followed as far back as 2006.

3. You attributed the decision to allow Paly seniors to request the UC weighted GPA to the fact that this GPA might be higher. This wasn't the reason given although it was mentioned. They didn't want to take away a choice these students had already been granted, despite the fact that this choice had been granted by the Paly administration against the wishes of the board. Ms. Townsend pointed out that colleges don't accept the UC weighted GPA so it doesn't matter whether it's higher or not.

4. Your explanation of Melissa Baten Caswell's proposal wasn't very clear. Her proposal was to include all classes in the weighted GPA but only weight AP and UC-approved honors courses. You failed to mention that she later rescinded this proposal in favor of Ms. Townsend's proposal.

I hope you will edit the article to include these facts.

Thank you.

21 people like this
Posted by wgGPA Analyst
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 22, 2016 at 9:37 pm

This article misses a key point about Mr. Dauber's motions. There were not 1 but 2 failed motions with the second one being a slight refinement of the the first one. The reason why this is important is both those motions were made in direct opposition of the recommendations of BOTH high schools' - their principals and their counseling staffs - as well as the majority of the board (when asked by Ms Enberling if she'd 2nd the his first version of the motion Ms. Goddfrey said "OH No! I didn't 2nd it. I just said I heard it). One has to wonder why someone, who claims to speak for the students and wants to defer to the administrators and counselors (as they are the real experts here), not once BUT TWICE, tries to overrule the agreed to recommendations of those same experts and can't even get a 2nd from any other board member (and he still continued with effectively the same proposal after the universal rebuke on the first one)

Principal Diorio even said she supported going even farther and reporting 4 GPAs on the transcript, and I quote, "Last week when I was taking with Max this is what I suggested".

Clearly Mr. Dauber had problems with the original proposal such that he would twice try to tweak it. Strange that in the end he actually voted for it. My guess is it couldn't have been that bad and I thank him for being very consistent in the past 3 meetings that he fully supports AP and the reporting of weighted grading. After all he also changed his opinion from the October 18th board meeting (at that time he was against reporting). Clearly the data was compelling enough for him to change his view.

It's nice to know that we have set the minimum bar for this which can only get better when a final reconmedation is made. And we can count on Mr. Dauber'a continued support.

22 people like this
Posted by Play mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 22, 2016 at 10:15 pm

@ Reality Check,

PALY never weighted courses. The weighted system you referred to is for UC and it is still exist with no change. However, UC calculates their own weighted GPA so high schools and students never need to report anything on transcript. This did not change from the past to now nor in the future.

The board did not change any weighting system. They just vote to add one fully weighted GPA (that counted all courses) that could help students to qualify for scholarships and better chance at college admission.

While some lucky seniors may not need to worry about tuition of colleges, please remember that there are many other seniors who really need scholarships to go to colleges.

All students' transcripts will have a higher or equal weighted GPA beside the original unweighted GPA. And, seniors do no need to ask for it. No additional process. I don't see any negative of it.

9 people like this
Posted by Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 22, 2016 at 10:35 pm

ANOTHER new schedule?! Noooooooo. Please, nooooo.

9 people like this
Posted by Grateful Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 22, 2016 at 10:40 pm

@fact checker: While there is no "honors" English at Gunn for freshmen and sophomores, there is accelerated or advanced, and my daughter is SO glad to be in class with other like minded students who like to read and discuss. No disrespect for students with other passions....

5 people like this
Posted by Another parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 22, 2016 at 11:23 pm

THANK YOU, @another Gunn parent. My son is so relieved to be in a class in which the kids ACTUALLY do the homework. KEEP levels at GUNN!!

1 person likes this
Posted by Yes!!
a resident of Egan Middle School (Los Altos)
on Nov 22, 2016 at 11:25 pm

@Gun Stupent. Word!! Routines matter!

Like this comment
Posted by Yes!!
a resident of Egan Middle School (Los Altos)
on Nov 22, 2016 at 11:30 pm

Sorry, STUDENT, obviously. Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving, Gunn People. We were -- And. Can be -- the best. Peace.

9 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 23, 2016 at 7:50 am

Wow, this whole thing leaves me practically speechless. People ask me "why are the kids so stressed out in Palo Alto"?
Is it the "teachers/schools or is it the parents"?

Well, after following this controversy, I can tell you without a doubt, it is the parents. I was invited to join a WGPA
group e-mail conversation. The parents slant every point, every angle to their own benefit. There is no open,
unbiased conversation. Just push, push, push your agenda without even a sliver of hope to open a conversation.

Nope. These parents feel that their special snowflake will somehow be slighted. After all, it was the parent, not the
school that pushed the kid into taking all those AP & Honors classes. Hey, they even had to pay a tutor, because as it
turns out, said special snowflake is just like all of the other kids. I know that my view is shared by many, but they
are less vocal, less intense & hopefully enjoying raising their kids.

OK now parents, go, pummel me into the ground for my opinion.

25 people like this
Posted by Another Mom
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 23, 2016 at 9:55 am

Agreed, Palo Alto, that everyone seems to slant their opinions on what will benefit their own kid the most. If your kid takes lots of APs, weighted all the way! If your kid got bad grades freshman year, but improved, took 2 honors per year, UC formula is best! But if your kid did well freshman year, down with UC formula. If your kid takes no honors, no to weighted GPA, because the disparity shows more when comparing kids (and yes, colleges compare kids, unfortunately). I hope this discussion is over! Or maybe we should have kindergarten parents decide because they don't know yet what will benefit their kids.

1 person likes this
Posted by Fact checker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 23, 2016 at 12:45 pm

@Grateful Gunn Parent,

I am so glad your student is happy. Having leveled curriculum can be excellent for students.

I was responding to the comment that said freshman honors english would receive the same weight as AP-Chem. The 9A and 10A classes are not called honors and they are not honors weighted.

There is a junior year one-semester honors class for English and it is excellent and quite rigorous. There no equivalent honors class for freshman and sophomore year. Reading through the comments, there does appear to be a demand for more honors level in english and history.

2 people like this
Posted by Paly mom of 2
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 23, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Is "leveled curriculum" the new Orwellianism for "tracking"?

5 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 23, 2016 at 1:33 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Paly mom of 2 I agree with Play Mom of 2, we need to be open and call it tracking, and bring it back at all grade levels, especially elementary school where the curriculum is a joke and the schools have been dumbed down to glorified day care.

2 people like this
Posted by Paly mom of 2
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 23, 2016 at 2:05 pm

Exactly! I love a man who isn't ashamed to take a stand, even if there's no evidence behind it. Bravo!

2 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 24, 2016 at 10:13 am

The tipping point has been reached. Palo Alto = Cupertino.

Like this comment
Posted by Fact checker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 25, 2016 at 4:05 pm

@Paly mom of 2

I did not mean tracked. Tracks are lock steps that are required, but I don't think 9A and 10A are requirements for later classes. They are leveled.

I believe you have to take certain classes before AP BC Calc, but I don't think anything is required before AP US History.

My opinion (not a fact) is that students should be strongly encouraged to take at least 2 honors classes in their 4 years of high school. If this means we need different "levels" of honors or new honors classes, so be it. We are preparing kids for college and life, and experience with rigor is a good thing for success in both.

Like this comment
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 26, 2016 at 11:28 am

You must complete freshman English (9 or 9A) to take sophomore English (10 or 10A). Similarly, to take APUSH you must have completed freshman and sophomore history. With that said, they're also graduation requirements so it's as if they're not 'requirements' for later classes.

Like this comment
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 26, 2016 at 2:07 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Paly Mom of 2 - If common sense observation that tracking works isn't enough, there are plenty of studies to support it.

"This study suggests that creating classes with lower levels of dispersion of score or ability level may improve the achievement outcomes for students across the score distribution "

Web Link

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

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