Six seniors with their GPA changes.  Clockwise from Upper Left: JP McGinley, Jenna Mekkelsen, Gary Arleth, Ella Lyford, Shannon McGinley, and Amanda Reed.  Their GPA’s rose as much as .5.

 

U-32’s GPA Bailout

On December 19th at 8:55, Owen Myka-Smith’s GPA was 3.01. Five minutes later, it was 3.44. This morning U-32 seniors turned on their Chromebooks and were shocked to see that their GPAs had changed. It was definitely not the end of the semester. Why were GPA’s suddenly skyrocketing? 

In one Current Events class, students immediately refreshed Infinite Campus to see how much their GPA had been altered. Sage Hannon’s went from 2.77 to 3.21. Molli Brown went from 2.5 to 3.0. Students saw an increase in as much as .5, depending on how many 4’s they had previously earned for course scores. As the morning went on, other students initially saw no change in their GPA. 

“Is it alphabetical?” One student asked.   

The changes on Infinite Campus came out of the blue for students.   No students appear to have heard about the potential changes before today.

Most teachers appeared as surprised as the students.  It’s unclear whether there was a process to get feedback from faculty before the policy was implemented.   

The GPA change spurred confusion and indignation throughout the high school. Many students went to Lisa Laplante, head of Student Services at U-32 asking what was going on.

“I’m not answering any questions until 11:05,” Laplante said. “You’re going to get an email.”  The letter below was sent to all 12th 11th and 10th-grade students and families at 11:15 am.  

Read the letter here: 2019-12-19-10-43-01_121919 GPA Conversion Letter to Families

The letter explained that college admission officers were confused about U-32’s GPA conversion, and did not understand how to translate U32’s grades to the traditional Carnegie system. U-32 had sent out a proficiency-based transcript and school profile however according to the letter,“(e)ven with these efforts the GPA calculation is not easily understood by some colleges.” 

Responding to the confusion, U-32 clarified that student’s GPA’s had been recalculated according to this conversion chart:  

All updated GPA’s and transcripts will be re-sent to colleges where seniors have already applied. “Based on our early feedback from colleges,” the letter read, “we feel this change needs to happen now so that our students can be fairly considered for all college and scholarship opportunities to which they apply.”   

Initial reactions from students varied. In the beginning, when the GPAs first changed, many seniors were elated, excited to see a GPA in the 3 range. However, seniors soon started to express anger about the time of the change. Some were mad that their GPA’s had changed only after they had submitted many college applications.  

“Why would they do it now?” senior Claire Thompson asked. “Most of the ambitious kids already applied to most of their colleges.”  

 For many seniors who had already heard back from the colleges they applied to, the GPA inflation hardly mattered. Sage Hannon, like several other seniors, was deferred from UVM. “This doesn’t help me now,” she said.   

In an email to Lisa Laplante, UVM wrote that the average GPA for admitted in-state students is 3.81.  This is well above what most U-32 seniors were able to achieve under proficiency grading.

The GPA inflation raises several questions about the future meaning of grades at U-32.  If 1’s and 2’s are considered higher, will a four carry the same weight it used to? 

Similarly, will teachers be incentivized to give lower grades to “more accurately reflect” how the student has performed in the class? 

Are there students who now have a strong GPA but are missing many proficiencies for graduation? 

 

Other students raised the issue of unfairness in the inflation scale. 1’s, 2’s, and 3’s all experienced an inflation of .5, however students who received 4’s for many course grades saw little to no change in their GPA as there is no inflation for a course grade of a 4. The cap for GPA at U-32 is 4.0. There has been no discussion thus far to adjust it to a 4.5 and create an even inflation scale. 

Is this fair for the students who have worked hard to exceed expectations and get 4’s as a course grade? If all of the rest of class moves further up in the GPA continuum but students with primarily 4’s hardly change, is this inflation scale equitable? 

Perhaps the most important questions relate to money.  Even for students who have been accepted to colleges, there is still a lingering question as to whether they received as much aid as they “should have” qualified for. Many schools have minimum GPA requirements for merit-based scholarships and students below the designated threshold are not even considered. 

 

What went wrong?

Only six weeks ago, on November 6th, U-32’s administration updated the School Board and several legislators from Washington County regarding U-32’s progress with proficiency-based grading. The two presenters, Jen Miller-Arsenault (WCSU’s Director of Curriculum) and Steven Dellinger-Pate (U-32’s Principal), started off with a simple statement: “We anticipate some questions, and we’re prepared to answer them.”

Later the conversation switched to graduating seniors (the class of 2020), many of which are applying to colleges soon. The administration explained how U-32’s school profile, which is what all colleges see when an application is sent, was brought to a handful of college recruiters. 

“We actually last year invited them to dinner when they were here for one of our college nights,” Steven said. “We handed them our draft of it, and we said okay, does this make sense? Do you see who our students would be? What suggestions would you have?” This is in efforts to reduce any confusion around interpreting U-32’s own take on proficiency. “So we vetted that through them. And there’s a link to our school profile that’s on our website and that’s going out to the colleges to explain who we are and how we do things.” 

This branched into a discussion about GPAs, and how every school both in the state and around the country calculates it differently. “GPA doesn’t easily compare kids between schools,” Steven said. 

“We do know that there are issues around merit-based scholarships and pieces like that, so the other thing that I would offer is that our school counselors are making a whole lot of phone calls this year.” 

Jen Miller Arsenault, the curriculum director for the district also joined the discussion: 

“Just in the past week, I’ve heard both from a news report from UVM admissions officers and from Middlebury college admissions officers that it is their responsibility, their job as admissions officers, to understand where these kids are coming from, to understand the school profiles, and to understand the GPA as we calculate it here.”

Steven touched on how colleges typically compare within a school and within a class, evaluating where a student fell compared to their peers. “Like what is your score, how do you compare to some of your classmates? That’s generally true of most GPAs.”

“And we call admissions people directly. So I know that we’ve spoken to admissions directors in Michigan, we’ve spoken to them in Minnesota, we’ve definitely spoken to a lot of them here in the Vermont area and the Northeast,” Steven said, “and as kids continue to apply to schools we continue to make those phone calls because we want to make sure that [the] information is there and in front of them so that we can make sure that those schools can make a good decision about our kids.”

Last year the Chronicle interviewed several admissions offices including UVM, and the resounding message was that a different GPA (on a 4.0 scale) would not be a disadvantage in any way. There was a reassurance that they received a wide range of types of applications from homeschooled students to international students and they would interpret our GPA according to our school’s particular guidelines to ensure all applicants were judged fairly. 

What went wrong? Why after all these assurances were the colleges unable to interpret U-32 students’ transcripts? 

 

One Reason For Low GPA’s: 4’s

These are Images of Luminary Jars that were made in the Pottery 1 class. These are examples of a 1,2,3,and 4 with this project. Here is the rubric in which they were graded with. 

 

One of the reasons students’ GPAs were low before the inflation relates to the way 4s are given out at U-32.  Teachers do their best to have the opportunities for 4s in the classroom but there is not a clear understanding across departments on what students need to do to earn a 4. 

The Chronicle interviewed several department heads around the meaning of 4s: 

  • Social Studies department head Zach Gonzalez:

“There’s a lot of different interpretations of 4s in the school.” 

“I know a lot of kids are only looking for if they get the 3.  They don’t care about the feedback: ‘If I passed, it’s good enough.’”

  • Math department head Julie Kiefer:

 “You can put them out there for opportunities for kids, but they don’t always take advantage of them.”

  • Science department head Aanika Devries:

 “For scored assignments, they always have the option. We might not have gone over what they have to do at that point.”

 “A lot of students choose not to try for a 4.” 

 

Many students, however, feel as though they are not getting a fair opportunity in all of their classes to achieve a 4, and that expectations are inconsistent.

Avery Knauss is a freshman at U-32.  “In biology, you have to research a whole other aspect of the topic your learning about outside of class to get the 4,” she said. “But then in geometry it’s just a little bit of extra work or maybe combining more than one thing you’ve done in that class together to get the 4.” 

“I feel in some classes it’s easy,” Knauss said, “and some classes you have to go way beyond.” 

Julia Oliver, a senior at U-32, has a similar perspective. “There’s a lot of classes I don’t even know how I would get a 4,” she says, “and then there are some classes where I show up and I get a 4, so I think there’s a lot of discrepancy between classes.” 

But there are some classes that are really generous with 4’s.  M’gaira Gomes, a sophomore at U-32 received a 4 in her health class. “I just put in all the effort I could,” she said. “It’s a class that makes me feel comfortable about sharing stuff, and so I am able to put more thought and passion into my work.” 

All of the confusion around 4s may have impacted students’ motivation. Senior Justin Tedeschi expressed a common point of view: “Why would I waste time trying to get a 4,” he said, “when I can barely get a 3.”