Shedding The Weight

In The Beginning…

In January of 2013, a group of students went to Harwood’s administration with an H-1 proposal with the intent to change Harwood’s academic policy regarding how we weigh grades, how we rank students academically, and how we evaluate the Green and Gold scholarship criteria. Thus, in the fall of 2013, Harwood’s administration along with students began reviewing and revising our school’s academic policies. From December through January, Harwood’s School Board researched high schools in Chittenden and Washington counties. The board found that Harwood and Vergennes were the only schools in the region using weighted grading and class rank systems. On June 18, 2014, the vote to change these two academic policies were approved by Harwood’s School Board, and the transition began.

Lisa Lemieux, School Counselor, thinks class rank and weighted grading are not fair for all students and has become an issue. She believes students are overly focused on class rank and grades, which take away opportunities. “Students who were taking high ranking classes often couldn’t fit in desired electives. There are also students that felt that they had to take honors courses to appeal to colleges. With this change in weighted grades, we don’t know if it will change the way students choose classes, but I want to make sure that we’re not discouraging students from taking rigorous classes,” said Lemieux.

Schools such as CVU, South Burlington, Essex, and U-32 have already moved away from weighted grading and class ranking. During the research process, Lemieux found that a good majority of high schools don’t calculate class rank and that colleges don’t tend to look at class rank. High schools across the country have different methods of determining class rank. According to Lemieux, colleges do look at students grades and the rigor of courses, though co-curricular activities and teacher recommendations are becoming increasingly important in the decision process.

David Goodman, a member of the Harwood School Board Policy Committee (APP), met with an administrator from Harvard and found that Harvard does not look at class rank, because it is so different among schools in the United States; plus schools are not using it anymore.

Even though colleges are moving away from evaluating a student’s class rank, some certainly look at it. Deb Hunter the Chair of the APP Committee, and Chair of Harwood’s School Board, met with a University of Vermont administrator and found  that class rank is vital part of the university since they don’t recalculate grades like Harvard. According to the UVM administrator, weighted grading is helpful, so, essentially, keeping some general framework is important how our school has shaped our new policy. Therefore, due to the new school policy, it is important to note a student’s transcript will no longer have class ranking on it, but a student will be able to request it if a college or university desires it.

One thing to keep in mind as well is that without class ranking there is no valedictorian, a student with the highest cumulative average over her or his four years in high school. With the removal of class ranking, Harwood is introducing the Latin system of honors, whereby students with a cumulative GPA at or above a 3.8 will receive recognition. Traditionally, only the top two students have received recognition. With the Latin system there is no minimum or maximum of students that can receive recognition as long as they meet the GPA requirements. Students will be placed into three groups Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Cum Laude.

Our New GPA

As Harwood transitions to the Latin system, the following scores apply only for the class of 2015: Summa Cum Laude means having a cumulative GPA of 4.15 or higher; Magna Cum Laude means having a cumulative GPA of 4.00 to 4.13; lastly, Cum Laude means having a cumulative GPA 3.80 to 3.99. Every class following 2015 will have a modified GPA requirement for recognition. 

“With this change,” Lemieux states, “I believe things become more fair, more students are going to get honored. A lot of students in our school can’t get into high ranking classes but received high grades yet wouldn’t have been recognized. Shouldn’t those students be recognized for their efforts?”

The new transcript and grading policy states,“Weighted grades earned in previous years or during this transition will be retained and not recalculated in the 2014-15 school year only. Students in grades 11 and 12 will continue to receive weighted grades in courses as appropriate according to prior policy and procedures. Beginning in the 2015-16 school year there will be no more weighted grades given for any courses.” For, the classes of 2016 and 2017, the Latin System GPA requirements have been determined to match the year(s) students received weighted grades and the year(s) after the weighted grade(s) were removed. For the class of 2018 and forward the GPA requirements are the following: Summa Cum Laude means having a cumulative GPA of 3.90 or higher; Magna Cum Laude means having a cumulative GPA of 3.78 to 3.89 GPA; and Cum Laude mean having a cumulative GPA of 3.67 to 3.77. 

This new policy will not affect National Honors Society (NHS) applicants, because NHS does not make decisions based solely on grades. The evaluation criteria involves character, leadership, and a wide variety of things other than a student’s GPA. Nor will UVM’s Green and Gold Scholarship be impacted by this new policy. Even though Harwood can not change Green and Gold Scholarship criteria, The APP committee is working on a way so that a student, who would be inclined to attend UVM, receives the scholarship. In the past, students receiving the Green and Gold Scholarship haven’t attended UVM, which means an opportunity for a merit scholarship has gone to waste.

Process & Communication

The process that led to a decision of changing academically policy radically, spanned months. Started in January of 2013 and ending in June of 2014, the APP committee met and discussed the issues, created a proposal and shared it with the entire school board in March of 2014, and shared information with administration and representatives of the student body shortly thereafter. The APP group then sent emails to teachers announcing the proposed changes and requested feedback for APP’s next  meeting in April of 2014. In June of 2014, Ethan Carr, then a senior and Student Government representative, presented the proposal at an assembly, bringing this change to our attention, sending students into a flurry of questions. The student government members were in charge of informing the student body. It was unclear if the students fully understood this new policy; especially, considering the surprising responses by students on October 8th, during a class meeting, when Principal Rex and Lemieux discussed the new policy and provided a question and answer period. Students seemed unanimously unaware of the policy being changed in June. 

Better communication is an issue the school is evaluating. How can, as things change, leaders better communicate information to parents, students, and teachers? Especially, important, impactful policies. With better communication comes better student and community input, which Harwood aims to achieve.

Last Word

Lastly, and for clarity-sake, the new policy states, “The Harwood Union School Board is committed to providing a fair and equitable grading system that accurately reflects student performance and encourages student learning. Student performance will be measured, calculated, and reported in a consistent manner for all students according to established procedures. Students with high academic achievement will be recognized using objective thresholds. Class rank will not be calculated or reported except when required for a student’s application.”