Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What's our stance on weighted grades?

This is one of those times when this blog can provide the community with insight into decision making within the high school. This forum also offers members of the community the opportunity for healthy discussions on pertinent educational topics. Those of you who have experience with weighted grades know that this can be a controversial topic. This is a lengthy post because I have tried to explain our thought process. 

As many of you have heard, the Advisory Council* recently revised Graded's policy on weighted grades. It had been several years since the policy had been reviewed and recently there have been questions regarding the rationale for the weighting practices. It is certainly healthy for the school to periodically review polices and practices. In reviewing the policy we gathered information from university representatives, educational experts, and other top international schools.

After much discussion we decided to take Guskey and Bailey's advice to define the purpose of weighted grades at Graded. The information that we gathered from university representatives convinced us that as long as we explained our grading process, the universities would be able to review them with their own processes and filters. For this reason we decided that the primary purpose was to acknowledge students who took more rigorous college courses by weighting select courses. This information would be used when we determined the top ten juniors and seniors, including the valedictorian and salutatorian.

  • "To communicate teachers' judgments about students' achievements and performance to parents, to the students themselves, or to others..."
  • "To select, identify, or group students for certain educational paths, programs or honors..."

From Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning by Thomas R. Guskey and Jane M. Bailey

One of the university representatives stated, "We encourage students to take the more challenging classes, such as the IB, so we like to see students getting that recognition with the GPA."

With this decision done we set about the task of determining which courses to weight. In the end, we landed on the following.

All 1 Year Standard Level (SL) Courses - 5 points
All Higher Level (HL) Courses - 5 points
All Advanced Placement Courses - 5 points

We felt that all HL and AP courses are college level courses and that there is a high degree of rigor which deserves the additional percentage points. Since standard level (SL) courses are meant to be taught in 150 hours and 1 year courses meet for approximately 100 hours, students taking an SL course in one year are faced with an equally challenging workload.

We also considered the level of rigor for the Theory of Knowledge (ToK) course and decided that the workload in this class was not equivalent to a HL course. We also found that it was not common for ToK to be weighted at other international schools.

The final change that we made was to change the additional points from 6 to 5. Our research from international schools showed us that .5 (in a Grade Point Average) is common practice. A .5 increase in GPA equates to 5 points in our percentage system.

So, this was the information that I presented to seniors last week. In that meeting many of the seniors expressed concern about the changes to policy. There were two arguments that resonated with us and we decided to review our decision.

1. Those students who took IB history SL last year would not have received additional 5 points which meant that they would have been at a disadvantage when determined the top ten for senior year. We discussed several solutions and one of them was to go back and award the 5 points to those students.

2. Students were also worried about lower grades due to dropping the weighting for ToK and dropping the bonus from 6 to 5 points. One of the solutions was to explain this change to universities so that a lower grade would not be perceived as a drop in academic performance.

After some discussion we decided to continue using the past weighting practices with the members of the senior class. While we identified other solutions, we decided that there was no need to potentially increase the anxiety level for seniors. We certainly appreciated the fact that members of the senior class shared their concerns with me in a productive and responsible manner. We heard their voices and decided to adjust plans.

These new weightings will go into effect for the junior class and I will meet with them in the coming weeks to share our rationale. The timing is right since we only calculate GPA during the final two years of high school.

Please feel free to share your questions or comments below.

*The member of the Advisory Council are Ms. Petersen, Mr. Klam, Mr. Peterson, Ms. Broderick, Mr. Futada, Dona Gila, Ms. McClelland, Ms. Beck, Ms. Molony, Ms. Miller, and Mr. Bair


  1. As a full IB junior parent I post my indignation considering:
    Why didn't school share this with parents during the Open House?
    And, most important: why this change didn't take place last school year by the time future juniors and seniors where deciding their schedule?

  2. Dear Claudia, Thanks for expressing your indignation over this change. I met with the seniors last week and plan to meet with the juniors this coming week to discuss the policy change. I chose to not discuss it at Open House because it's the type of announcement that requires a discussion. The advisory council finalized the policy after we returned for the start of school so we were not able to announce it last year. I'm curious to learn how this would have influenced any course selection decisions. All the juniors are playing by the same rules in terms of weighted courses.
    I'm certainly wiling to speak with you about the details and Mr. Daniel and Ms. Miller can also speak to you about this change. I look forward to speaking to you and others in the near future. Thanks again for the comment.

  3. "One of the solutions was to explain this change to universities so that a lower grade would not be perceived as a drop in academic performance."

    Just a quick question - if you'll have to explain the decision to universities, and take an extra amount of time and work to make this decision known to all the universities out there, wouldn't it be better simply to keep it the way it was before? For as long as the IB Diploma has existed?

  4. Hi Paulo, My comment refers to explaining the change in practices from 11th to 12th grade. Since we have decided to keep the weighting the same for the seniors there is no need to explain. For future 11th and 12th graders this is a simple process. We report our weighting practices to universities each year. They take that information and adjust the grades based on their parameters. For our current students in your class (and future students) this will not create any problems. The IB diploma has been at Graded for 27 years and my guess is that there have been many revisions to the weighting practices over the years. We feel that it is healthy to review these types of policies occasionally to make sure that they are in line with current practices. The changes are actually minor and they are similar to other top international schools. The universities repeatedly tell us that they view Graded's program as rigorous and challenging and that we prepare students well for post-secondary education. This perception is certainly not going to change with these changes. I look forward to speaking with you and your class mates on Thursday.

  5. I agree with Claudia concerning the issue of not making the change prior to the current junior class signing up for classes last year. I know it influenced my daughter's decision to take SL Math instead of HL. (2nd year SL Math used to be weighted).
    In addition, I do not think it is fair to the current seniors who have been taking HL History that the school is retroactively giving 5 points to the students who took SL History last year, seeing as they signed up for SL with the knowledge that it would be unweighted. It is no different than taking away points from HL students who chose to challenge themselves with HL classes.
    The current Veracross is showing SL Math 2 (senior year) unweighted - according to last year's handbook, this is a weighted class. We heard senior class's weighing method would remain the same as last year's. Now I am very confused which classes the school will decide to award weight and which ones that will not be weighted.
    While I understand that the school needed to review and change as necessary, this change seems poorly executed.

  6. Dear Suzfer, I'd like to learn more about your daughter's decision to take IB Math SL as opposed to HL math. One thing that we are learning in our discussions is students have to make decisions on their program of study based on their ability levels and their future plans. There is a huge difference between HL and SL math and they prepare students for different paths. If your daughter plans to go into math, engineering or some of the sciences, then the HL math is the appropriate class. The fact that one class is weighted or not is certainly not a factor with universities. Our research shows that they overwhelming unweight grades so the additional points are not a bonus. I hope that your daughter made the best decision based on the program of study that is best for her, not based on weighted grades. Have you spoken to your daughter's counselor about her courses and what this change will mean to her? Also, I hope that she will ask the universities that she is applying to for their views on this subject.

    The current seniors are in the same system that they started last year. Seniors taking IB history SL this year are in an unweighted class. While Veracross does not show a "W" for IB math SL it will certainly still receive the 6 points. All of the calculations are done on the transcript, not the report card. The calculations are done internally and the "W" is not necessary.

    I respect that we could have communicated this more effectively in advance. While we believe that there is strong rationale for the changes, we certainly could have prepared our community for the changes.


Members of the Graded community are encouraged to comment and all comments are moderated by Blair Peterson, the High School Principal.