Editorial: Course weighting system should incentivize academic ambition, not senioritis

Earlier in the week, we took an in depth look at the course weighting system at Lampeter-Strasburg, comparing it to other schools in Lancaster County. The result was disturbing: of the five schools we analyzed, L-S places the least weight on accelerated and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. In fact, strictly in terms of grade point average, students are better served to take an easy slate of courses than risk earning even an A- in an AP course.

We get it. It looks bad to have students graduating with a 5.0 GPA and still be ranked outside the top ten of their class. But at the same time, when a student faces a choice between remaining deep within his or her comfort zone and taking an unweighted, easy course well within his or her wheelhouse and challenging himself or herself by taking an AP course that will stretch his or her mind, and the school -- through its course weighting system -- tells them to take the easy course, that is beyond problematic.

Now more than ever, the school must be a bastion of discovery, a place where one is rewarded -- not penalized -- if they fall a hair short of achieving a lofty goal after which they ambitiously chased rather than doing what they already knew they could do. Standardized tests encourage students to meet a baseline; a challenging course load encourages students to work hard to do what they did not know they were capable of doing, to develop soft skills (i.e., employable skills) like time management and an inquisitive spirit, and to reject the notion that what we know we are is all we can ever be. At least it should.

At Lampeter-Strasburg, it does not. To the proposition of taking a challenging course load, L-S says, "You can try, but if you fall even a tenth of a percentage point below where you would have fallen had you taken the easy course you knew you could ace, you lose."

Have a look at this table depicting three possible tracks for core courses one could take during his or her senior year:

Advanced Placement
Accelerated/College Bound
“Senioritis”/Less Rigorous
AP English (A-)
Novels & Film (A)
Mass Media (A)
AP Calculus (A)
Prob. & Stat. (A)
Pre-Calc (A) *
AP Psychology (B+)
Sociology (A-)
Intro to Law (A)
AP Chemistry (B)
Anat. & Phys. (B+)
Integrated Sci. (A-)

In terms of one's grade point average, the number that -- for better or for worse -- purports to give a snapshot of what one achieves during four years of high school, the best approach is to take a course load in which earning an "A" (or as close as one can get at any level) is automatic.

Sure, if you're willing to sacrifice your GPA, you can expose yourself to college level courses that will challenge you to think and comprehend rather than fill space and regurgitate, but if you want a potential interviewer to have the best first impression of your high school career, take it easy. That's a great life skill!

The fact is that although colleges may reweigh grade point averages using their own scale, many scholarships, programs, and potential job interviewers will not. Thus, the sheer fact that one took the course load they did at L-S as opposed to another school (check our prior article for more details on how other schools do it) that weighs courses commensurately to the work they entail marks an inherent disadvantage.

Of course there is such a thing as too much weight. Five years ago when AP courses were weighed at a 1.3, standard accelerated courses were weighed at a 1.2, and even most basic courses were weighed at 1.1, which caused even middle-of-the-road students to have 4.5 GPAs, we may have had too much weight. But now, we don't have nearly enough.

Ideally, courses should be weighed such that expending a certain level of effort and possessing a certain level of knowledge should be worth a certain grade point average. With experience in all levels of courses at the high school, we can tell you that earning a 92.4% (considered an A-) in an AP course takes far more effort than earning a 92.5% (considered an A) in an accelerated course, so giving the student with a 92.5% in Accelerated Physics 13 hundredths of a point more than the student with a 92.4% (4.2 vs. 4.07) in Advanced Placement Physics is wholly unfair.

Disparity will always exist, but very roughly, a system wherein a B+ in an AP course is worth the same as an A- in an accelerated course and an A in a regular course strikes us as far more fair than the current system that rewards senioritis and penalizes ambition.

How often do we all hear the phrases "think outside the box" and "get out of your comfort zone" … especially at school! How about we start by making sure students who do just that are not penalized for taking the chance?

This editorial represents the collective opinion of the LSNews.org editorial board. Its lead author was editor-in-chief Benjamin Pontz. It does not constitute an official position of the Lampeter-Strasburg School District nor the advisor of LSNews.org. Questions or concerns can be directed to lspioneernews@gmail.com.


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