20 April, 2016
Number or letter grades that are assigned a numerical advantage when calculating a grade point average, or GPA.
- Offer students a numerical advantage for grades earned in higher-level courses or more challenging learning experiences, such as honors courses, Advanced Placement courses, or International Baccalaureate courses.
In some weighted-grade systems, for example, a grade in a higher-level course may have a “weight” of 1.05, while the same grade in a lower-level course has a weight of 1.0. In this system, a grade of 90 in an honors course would be recorded as a 94.5 or 95, while a 90 in a similar “college-prep” course would be recorded as a 90. An alternate system might add five “quality points” to grades earned in honors courses (90 + 5 = 95) and eight quality points to all grades earned in Advanced Placement courses (90 + 8 = 98). In another variation, an A in a higher-level course may be awarded a 5.0, for example, while an A in a lower-level course is awarded a 4.0. Lower grades in weighted courses would also receive the same one-point advantage—a grade of C, for example, would be assigned a 3.0, while a C in a regular course would be assigned a 2.0. In yet another variation, .33 may be added to all grades earned in Advance Placement courses, so that an A (4.0) would be recorded as a 4.33. While the examples above represent a few common formulations, grading systems and GPA scales may vary significantly from one school or school district to the next.
Given that weighted-grade systems may be calculated in dramatically different ways from school to school, reporters should investigate how weighted grades are calculated, what rationale is being used to support them, and what advantages or disadvantages may result for students.
- The practice offers an enticement for students to challenge themselves academically. By assigning greater value to grades earned in more challenging courses, weighted grades remove a potential disincentive posed by tougher courses—i.e., students worrying that a lower grade in a tougher course might adversely affect their GPA or class rank.
- Weighted grades deservedly compensate students who take tougher courses, recognize higher levels of academic accomplishment, and provide a more fair or balanced system of grading in schools with multiple academic tracks.
- Weighted grades discourage students from taking certain classes that may be educationally valuable but that may present a numerical drawback when calculating GPA and class rank. Art and music classes are rarely weighted, for example, so students may not consider art and music courses out of fear that such courses will adversely affect their GPA and class standing.
- Weighted grades are not academically significant unless the grades are based on a single set of learning standardsthat are evaluated consistently from course to course. In other words, unless schools can verify that a grade of A in one course actually represents greater academic achievement than an A earned in another course, the use of weighted grades can be misleading. For example, it’s possible that a course labeled “college prep” may actually be more challenging than a course labeled “honors.”
- Weighted grades may actually act as discouragements, rather than incentives, for students. While weighted grades may make challenging courses seem less “risky” to students, it’s also possible that students, once enrolled in the course, may not work as hard because they know that a lower grade is worth as much as a higher grade in another course. In addition, students enrolled in lower-level courses know that their efforts are being assigned less value by the grading system, so even if a student works hard and earns a good grade in a college-prep course, that effort will still be assigned a lower value than grades earned by students in higher-level courses.
- Weighted grades can devalue certain courses and reinforce cultural divisions within a school. Because both teachers and students know that lower-level courses are assigned a lower value, the practice of weighting grades reinforces the prestige associated with higher-level courses and the stigma associated with lower-level courses—for both teachers and students. Consequently, teachers may not want to teach lower-level courses, and students may feel embarrassed or ashamed to take them.
- Weighted grades create opportunities for students to control the grading process. In this view, weighted grades focus students on superficial outcomes—peer completion and higher numerical scores—rather than on more substantive outcomes, such as mastering new skills, exploring new ideas, learning from failure, or enjoying and appreciating the learning process, for example.