Weight Management: Honors vs. AP

Camille Summers

After doing their research and examining the curriculum at Lovett, “it became clear that we needed to change,” says Dean Boswell. 

Earlier this year, Dean of Students Mr. Boswell sent out about the upcoming change in the grade weighting system. Previously, the grade weighing was +5% for Honors classes and +10% for AP classes on the weighted GPA average. After the change, which will begin at the start of the 2020 fall semester, the grade weighting will be +7% for Honors classes along with +7% for AP classes. In other words, both Honors and AP classes will be weighted the same. 

At Lovett, the Honors curriculum is decided by Lovett, but the AP curriculum is established by The College Board, a national organization with a nation-wide final test in May. Now that Lovett is weighing both Honors and AP classes equally, it seems to reflect that they are both equally difficult.

Because of the change of grade-weighting there was some backlash by students who did not understand or want a change in the system mid-way through high school. College, GPA’s, worries about weighted classes in the past were all rushing through the students’ (and some parents’) heads.

Sophomore Grant Rhame, for example, is concerned about the new system negatively impacting his GPA. “Well, I’m doing a lot of AP classes next year, so my weight will be lower,” he says. “My GPA will drop because of the weight. I’m planning on doing a lot of APs next year, so the weight drop is frustrating.”

After hearing much worry and disagreement about the decision, I decided to go talk to Dean Patrick Boswell, a faculty member that played a key role in planning the grade weighting change, in order to get some clarity on the change and perhaps alleviate some misconceptions and concerns. 

According to Mr. Boswell, there were two main reasons they wanted to change the grade weighting system. 

First, the current Lovett weighting system has been in use since “back into the late 90’s,” Mr. Boswell says. “Since that time, we’ve added post-AP classes, so these are classes that go beyond the AP classes. Currently, because they are called Honors classes, they earn 5 points of weighting, but the prerequisite classes have 10 points of weighting. That doesn’t make any sense in the curriculum.”

The second reason for the change is that there are also Honors classes at all grade levels where “”the level of rigor and workload is comparable to AP classes that we teach here, so we want our grade weighting to reflect that.” He explained that our advanced coursework is “developmentally appropriate.” For example, “Our Honors 9th English class challenges a ninth grader in the same way that AP English challenges a twelfth grader. That weighting there should be reflected equally for those classes.”

This process of changing the grade weighting system began in the fall of 2018. Lovett department chairs began looking at different types of grade weighting. After doing their research and examining the curriculum at Lovett, “it became clear that we needed to change,” says Dean Boswell. 

One of the biggest things that the department chairs discovered was that many schools have different weighting systems. For the Lovett system, each class is counted in the GPA (electives, languages, etc.). “We want our grading weighting system to reflect our priorities,” says Dean Boswell. “One of those priorities is the electives we offer, we want them to contribute to the grade. Another priority is we don’t want a student to pick AP classes over Honors level classes that challenge them very much in the same way just because of the grading. We want them to see it as equal, so they can choose classes that are right for them and fit their interests.”

When deciding between different grade weighting systems, different alternatives came into play. The two main ideas are the ones that I’ve heard around the school the most. 

The first alternative was to grandfather in the rising freshmen instead of switching each grade’s transcript in fall 2020. There were two problems that would arise if “grandfathering” occurred. Dean Boswell explained that there would be “mixed grade classes. Math classes and electives, for example, probably have students from multiple grades. You can imagine that would cause students in the same class at the same time with different weighting; it doesn’t seem quite fair.” 

The second problem derives from the logistics behind “grandfathering” in regards to MyLion and course problems. Every Honors or AP class would have to have two versions: one for students under the new grade weighting and one for students under the old grade weighting. Teachers would have to take different attendances, have different grade systems, and even different MyLion pages for the same class.

The second alternative, instead of “grandfathering” in the rising freshmen, was to recalculate the GPA. The reasoning behind not taking that route was because it would be unfair to those students who chose classes based on the 5-10 grade weighting system, so it would seem odd to change grades that students earned in past high school years. 

The disadvantages and advantages were, of course, weighed, and the department chairs agreed that this was the best way of changing the system. The calculations show that the weighted GPAs are going to increase just a little bit, and it may make some of the retrospective data harder to interpret in Naviance. But he feels that those issues are “relatively minor to the better message,”, which is that “we value Honors level course work in Fine Arts, in the sciences, and in any other discipline as much as the AP coursework.” 

And he anticipates many students--like juniors in Honors American Studies, or students taking Honors Holocaust or Honors Astronomy--being able to relate to that. “It allows the student to pick what they are most interested in or which classes they can challenge themselves in without looking at the point difference,” he says.

Honors American Studies student Franice Tucker has mixed feelings. “For (the change in) honors, I’m happy, but for AP, I’m not,” she says. “AP is definitely harder than honors in general. There are exceptions like I understand about the [American Studies] perspective because the majority of us take the AP exam, but I don’t think it’s like that for all classes.”

And how might this impact the college process? For juniors who are just about to start applying to college, it won’t make that big of a difference; the junior application reflects the first 6 semesters, which will be under the old grade weighting system. The only time that it will matter is for the mid-year report, which will be under the new system. Boswell assured me that when “mid-semester report comes out, colleges are really looking at whether the grades are what they are expecting.” 

Director of College Counseling Ms. Jessica Sant expects that the new system will likely not impact the college entrance process. “It's important to remember that grade weighting is largely used as an internal metric for high schools. Typically, admission offices take raw grades from classes and apply their own weighting calculation; in many cases, colleges calculate their own GPA for each applicant. In a small number of instances, institutions that use Lovett’s GPA calculation evaluate it relative to other Lovett GPAs from the same graduating class through grade distributions reported on theLovett College Counseling Profile. Individual weighted GPAs are not compared from high school to high school; there are simply too many GPA scales across the country for that to make sense.”

This was confirmed for Ms. Sant at a recent “Reverse Fly-In” event the college counseling department held with eight admissions deans and directors. When grade weighting came up 
Falone Serna, Whittier College's Vice President for Enrollment Management, who has worked at some of the most selective private institutions in the country, shared, “‘[Lovett's] weighting scale is irrelevant. What is relevant is the context. What counts the most is the [raw] grade earned in the class.’” And, according to Ms. Sant, his response was unanimously agreed upon by the other admission officers in attendance, “ranging from highly selective private colleges to state flagships.”

Ms. Sant also pointed out that this decision has been vetted by a variety of people including department heads, teachers, grade-level LPA representatives, and college-admissions representatives. “This decision will allow for Lovett's advanced course offerings, regardless of AP designation or not, to be valued equitably in our community,” she says.

For sophomores, the GPA will fall under the old system for two years and one year under the new, but Mr. Boswell made a valid point that I hadn’t thought of. “When [sophomores] apply to college, colleges are going to look at that and their GPA relative to their peers. They are all under the same 2 and 1 system. The grade distribution will change within each class, but they will only be evaluated within their class not the class before or behind them. You are being compared to students that operate under the exact same system in your class.” Not only will sophomores only be compared with their own classes, colleges have made it clear that as long as Lovett provides context on the grading, it doesn’t really affect how the student is judged. 

It seems that this system will help grades and eliminate the factor of students making course decisions based on grade weights. Mr. Boswell hopes everyone will take the long view with this change.  “I don’t see any problems on the horizon right now; this is not something that we are going to change every year. It’s been well over 20 years that we haven’t changed the grade weighing system until now.” 

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