The Douglas County School District will explore the possibility of weighting honors classes for high school students. The idea would be to make students more competitive when applying to college and for scholarships.
Currently, all classes are graded on a 4.0 scale, except for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, which are graded on a 5.0 scale. While honors courses are meant to be more challenging, there is presently no difference in how they impact a student’s grade-point average.
Rock Canyon High School Principal Andy Abner said the debate over weighting honors classes has been going on as long as he can remember.
“There are some principals that absolutely want to weight honors courses, and there are some principals who don’t want to weight honors courses because they don’t feel as though there is an objective criteria,” Abner said.
Abner was one of two DCSD high school principals to speak on the topic during the Jan. 3 board of education meeting.
“Who’s to say an honors English class in New Jersey is the same as an honors English class in Douglas County?” said Douglas County High School Principal Tony Kappas.
Jeffco Public Schools, the Cherry Creek School District and Littleton Public Schools offer weighted honors classes, in addition to AP and IB courses, for high school students. AP and IB classes have criteria that are the same across the country, which is not true of honors classes.
Kappas and Abner agree that college admissions and scholarships are at the heart of the debate.
While both say it makes sense for students to be rewarded for taking more challenging courses, there are also potential negative impacts of offering more weighted classes.
“As administration, we all deal with the great GPA race,” Abner said. “There are a lot of students and families and people who want to figure out what the best path is toward the highest GPA. Sometimes, we find students who will only take weighted courses and may miss out on some of the elective opportunities they may be interested in.”
Class rank can come into play when students apply for college or compete for scholarships. Adding more weighted courses would likely add to the competition between students.
Abner said the highest GPA at Rock Canyon this year is 4.4, which is weighted above the traditional 4.0 with the addition of AP classes.
The district could potentially weight honors classes on a 5.0 scale like AP classes, or lower on a 4.5 scale.
“We have students who if they could take nine classes instead of eight to get that extra A, and maybe get ahead of someone, they would,” Kappas said. “We have had students take AP through correspondence to boost their GPA.”
School board Vice President Judith Reynolds said as the parent of a senior who is applying to colleges, she has learned firsthand how the admissions process can vary school to school and region to region.
“That’s part of this discussion: Is that GPA important?” Reynolds asked. “Because I know a lot of the schools (my daughter) has applied to do level the playing field and look at the unweighted GPA.”
School board President Meghann Silverthorn said she took weighted honors courses as a high school student in Athens, Greece, in the mid-1990s.
She said she found that the weighted courses were magnets for the kids who would eventually go into the IB program.
“The concern that I’ve heard from the community is that the courses should be rigorous enough to warrant the weighting,” Silverthorn said.
Board member Steve Peck expressed concern that adding additional weighted courses would lead to GPA inflation.
“You would see GPAs go up,” Abner said.
The board directed district staff to put together a report looking at the pros and cons of weighting honors classes as well as comparisons to other districts across the state.
There will be a presentation of the findings at a March board meeting.