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How Meaningful is Your Child's GPA?

Having gone to school when a 4.0 GPA (grade point average) was the highest possible, I'm still surprised when I read that a student has graduated from high school with a GPA of 4.5.

A GPA higher than a 4.0 is meaningless. Students obtain them by taking weighted courses. The method of weighting varies from district to district. The usual courses weighted are the Advanced Placement (AP) courses. They are supposed to be the equivalent of a freshman college course, but they aren’t. Not only does their quality vary from school to school, students can earn a weighted grade for "taking" an AP course, without sitting and passing the AP exam for it.

School superintendents offer as many AP courses as possible to improve their school’s academic ranking. College Board entrepreneurs push them to gain increased revenue and prestige. Ambitious students take as many as possible to "look good" on their college applications. Parents buy into them because they believe that their children will be at an advantage by skipping introductory freshman courses.

AP courses a Scam?
Unfortunately, AP courses are pretty much a waste of time and money. Students would do better to learn high school subjects in rigorous high school courses taught and evaluated by competent high school teachers.

You needn’t take my word for it. According to a 2004 study conducted by Saul Geiser and Veronica Santelices (University of California, Berkeley), a GPA inflated with weighted AP credits “is invariably the worst predictor of college performance.” What’s the best predictor according to the report? The “best predictor of both first- and second-year college grades” is an unweighted high school GPA.

Similar reports from Harvard (2004) and MIT (2006) found that students who are allowed to skip introductory courses because they had a supposedly equivalent AP course in high school do worse in the next course than students who take their introductory courses in college.

Encouraging the stereotype of Dumb Jock
While college-bound students at the top of the class are padding their GPAs with weighted courses, college-bound athletes are being encouraged to be dumb jocks.

High school athletes, whom schools long required to maintain a minimum GPA of 2.5, have seen their bottom line drop to 2.0 and lower. Some school districts–like Rockford, Illinois–have dropped GPA eligibility requirements altogether. The rationale is that requiring student athletes to maintain a GPA of any kind discourages them from taking hard courses or even from staying in school.

"Equity doesn't mean "lowest common denominator"
“Equity” is a word frequently thrown about in the GPA controversy. It’s one of those wastebasket words that can mean anything you want it to.

When it comes to public education, equity should mean providing every child with the opportunity to benefit from free (tax-supported) education. It should not mean lowering standards of excellence so that everyone gets an A.

What should a GPA reflect?
A 4-point A should represent excellent work that shows understanding and competence well above minimum expectations.

A 3-point B should represent competent work with above average understanding of the subject and skill of presentation.

A 2-point C should represent minimum mastery of subject and skills taught and reasonable neatness of presentation.

A 1-point D should represent less than mastery, but still some useful understanding of the subject taught and ability to use the desired skills to some effect.

Failure to learn, including failure that results from refusing to attempt to learn, should result in a grade of F with the opportunity to try again.

GPA is not a meaningful indicator of high school achievement
The sad fact is that U.S. public schools have been taken over by narrow political and business interests that are not compatible with educating children to their highest intellectual and emotional levels. The curriculum has narrowed and methods of evaluation have become skewed.

Parents must set their own standards and develop their own ways of evaluating their children’s progress. They cannot afford to trust meaningless GPAs.


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