KISD’s New GPA Policy: A Help or A Hindrance?

Hannah Webb, Editor-in-Chief

If you’re a student at Keller High School, chances are the topic of GPA comes up in at least one of your conversations daily. If not in conversation, the thought lurks in the back of your mind as you silently fight the stressful battle to improve your class rank. The reality of the situation is that the culture here at Keller has become an unhealthy one, due in large part to the looming shadow of GPA and class rank that consumes the lives of many students.

Even if you aren’t concerned with raising your GPA, you’re still affected by this culture. You probably hear daily comments from friends and peers about the lack of sleep they get nightly, as they sacrifice their necessary eight hours of sleep for more time to work on homework.

“Some of our students unfortunately get overwhelmed, which leads to lack of sleep, which leads to mental health concerns and a lack of ability to persevere during certain spans of time,” said counselor Wes Upton.

It was exactly these observations of student culture that led a team of Keller ISD counselors, administrators, and other employees to begin examining the root of the problem, coming to the conclusion that our GPA policy desperately needs some re-working.

As it stands, our GPA policy works like this: all the classes that you take in high school factor into your GPA, with Pre-AP and AP classes earning ten extra points, and dual and regular classes getting no additional bonus.

The proposed changes would essentially constitute a total overhaul of the policy. Most prominently, the only classes that would count towards your GPA are the required core classes: the four English courses (English I, II, III, and IV), three math courses (algebra I, geometry, and algebra II), three sciences (biology, chemistry, and physics), and the social studies courses (world geography, world history, U.S. history, government, and economics).

In addition, class rank would be reported differently. Those in the top ten percent would be able to see their class rank on their transcript, but those below the top ten percent would not know where they stand in the ranking. We would also be switching to a 4.0-scale GPA instead of a 100-point scale with different weighting for the different types of courses. AP classes would receive a full one-point bonus (the equivalent of the ten points these classes receive now), and dual and Pre-AP classes would receive half a point (equivalent to five points on the 100 point scale).

These changes would be phased in by grade level. The changes to class rank reporting, GPA scale, and class weighting would begin with this year’s eighth graders, and the changes to classes that factor into GPA calculations would begin with this year’s seventh graders.

I’m a huge fan of the new policy, as I have several problems with the one we currently have. Firstly, the current policy encourages kids to take classes they really have no interest in simply to maintain their GPA. This principally occurs in the fine arts areas, as Pre-AP and AP art classes are available for students to take, while theatre, band, and choir don’t have any class options that earn the ten bonus points. At this point, GPA becomes a matter of how well you can strategically choose your courses, and kids take art classes they really have no interest in simply to make sure they’re able to keep up with their peers.

Secondly, it promotes the kind of single-minded attitude that is toxic to any culture. Especially at KHS, which is such an academically competitive environment, we’ve come to believe that there are two kinds of kids: the “smart” kids that take AP Calculus along with AP Chemistry and AP Bio all in the same year, and all the other kids, who take dual and regular classes along with perhaps a few APs mixed in. We overlook so many intelligent kids just because they choose to take dual and regular classes that might be a better fit for them.

The new policy solves both of these problems. Kids can only pile on as many AP classes as GPA calculations allow because the policy only counts certain classes; it greatly reduces the degree to which kids can play the system. There’s no motivation to take AP classes you don’t care about if they don’t factor into your GPA.

It also reduces the mindset that kids have to take all AP classes in order to be smart, because it creates a standard of courses on which to look at a student’s skills. Students will now be compared in an “apples-to-apples” manner, meaning that their GPA is based on the same classes.

In addition to these solutions, the new policy also allows kids to focus on learning for the sake of learning, not for a few extra points onto their GPA. Since class rankings aren’t reported to those outside the top ten percent, it reduces the obsession we as students tend to have over a simple number — a number that won’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things.

Of course, the reactions to this policy haven’t been entirely positive. As reported by The Star Telegram, sophomore Shishira Bhavimane wasn’t entirely in favor of the proposed changes. She believes that students who challenge themselves in taking higher-level science/math classes would be negatively affected in comparison to classmates taking lower-level classes, as those advanced classes wouldn’t play a role in GPA.

She also had concerns with electives, saying “you could get 100s on all your core classes but 70s on your electives, and you would still get the high ranking.”

Others are concerned that high-achieving students in AP classes are punished as dual classes will now receive bonus points where they did not receive them before.

While these concerns are valid, the policy also takes a strain off those high-achieving students by only counting core classes in GPA calculation. Kids with extremely high GPAs have seen that electives without Pre-AP options actually hurt them instead of help them. The classes that are supposed to be the easiest end up bringing down their GPA. Even if these students receive a 100 in the elective class, this grade still hurts their GPA. Since the policy won’t take elective courses into account, kids in advanced level courses still see benefits from the new policy.

With that being said, it’s important to keep in mind that the policy is not set in stone yet. The proposed changes will be put to a vote at the December 7 school board meeting, where it will be up to school board officials to decide: is the new GPA policy a help or a hindrance to students?