Lori Whitesell was troubled by the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s system for calculating grade-point averages, finding it unfair to students who retake classes to get better marks.
And when the active parent asked current Santa Monica High School students about it, she expected them to be outraged.
“They weren’t outraged — they felt like the system worked against them,” she said. “They’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s what happens. I’m screwed.’ And that was so distressing. When we have policies in place where kids are defeated, they stop trying. I saw it in their faces.”
Whitesell’s testimony came as the local Board of Education discussed possible changes to SMMUSD grading guidelines that could have dramatic implications for students’ college prospects.
When students do poorly in a class, they have the opportunity to boost their GPAs by retaking the class and earning a new grade. For years, the district has used an average of the two grades in its overall GPA calculation.
That policy could soon change. As the district tries to close the achievement gap, encourage more students to take challenging courses and promote the pursuit of higher education, many officials believe students’ GPAs should be determined using the higher of the two grades.
In addition, officials advocated for using a weighted system that accounts for the rigor of Advanced Placement classes.
The school board could take action on the matter at its March 3 meeting, according to a district report.
The board’s recent review of grading was prompted in part by an October study session of summer school offerings. At the time, district officials were unclear about how grades from retaken classes are factored into overall GPA calculations.
Samohi principal Eva Mayoral said the tweaks would help the district reach its goal of having 55 percent of students earn a score of 3 or higher on an AP exam by the time they graduate. Officials at the high school recently began recruiting students they feel are capable of handling AP material.
“Many times these students are resisting because they are fearful that they are going to destroy their GPA,” Mayoral said. “How do we help students to not feel like they have to play it safe? One thing we have to do is to have weighted GPAs that allow students to take on more rigorous risks and recognize they’re not gonna have to suffer. … We don’t want them taking the path of least resistance.”
Beverly Hills, Culver City, El Segundo and Palisades high schools all calculate weighted GPAs for students, Mayoral said.
Samohi college counselor Rosa Mejia said the University of California and California State University systems recalculate student GPAs to account for AP classes, but she added that many students apply to schools that don’t.
And because the district doesn’t typically calculate weighted GPAs, college counselor Ernesto Flores said, some students might not know they’re actually eligible to attend a UC campus.
The potential changes could also affect students’ chances of qualifying for financial aid. College counselor Julie Honda said some schools offer merit-based assistance, but she added that many of them don’t recalculate unweighted GPAs.
“In the past we’ve written letters to those specific schools saying, ‘If we did weight the GPA, this is what the student would have,’” she said. “For students who are on the cusp and just need a little push up, and they’ve taken one or two APs, that can help them with merit aid.”
Added Whitesell: “It’s time for these policies to change so we can help kids do better, be better and be encouraged.”