The Problem with Grades at OHS

Senior at OHS, Olivia Clishe.

Senior at OHS, Olivia Clishe.

Makayla Tajalle, Journalist

Olympia High School used to see less than a handful of students demonstrating outstanding levels of academic achievement, and now has over 30 seniors with 4.0’s.

Many see class rank and GPA as a strong indicator of academic excellence and intelligence, often fostering an environment full of competition both positive and negative. “On the negative side, class rank might promote cheating and unhealthy behavior where students are more focused on the numbers than the learning. Ideally, students gain an intrinsic love and curiosity for learning and the numbers are secondary,” says Principal Matthew Grant. Students who value class rank and GPA may take different routes in maintaining such through classes and course rigor. “A 4.0 simply means that you got all A’s within your classes, but does not take into account those classes that you took.” says Michael Zhao, Senior at OHS. Class rank and GPA at OHS does not differentiate course level, as GPA’s are kept unweighted. A-level performance in AP and honors classes is measured as the same as any other in regular and elective classes.

In regards to the grading scale across courses at OHS, Grant says “It is really hard to gauge because we do not have a great deal of uniformity in our grading systems.” Assessment is different based on the teacher and class, so while most collaborate to create a general scale of grading, there is still variation in percentage marks to achieve certain grades. With tests being the main factor in grading across the vast majority of courses at OHS, “the greater emphasis on performing well on tests alone forces students to focus primarily on learning the bare minimum in order to perform well on that one exam, without actually attempting to gain a thorough understanding of whatever it is they are studying,” says Zhao. Students may find themselves putting in less effort towards assignments and material that don’t impact their grade as much, but do impact their genuine knowledge of the course. Quality of learning and work often decreases when students are heavily focused on simply coming out of their classes with an A. Grant says that OHS is “hoping to standardize grading more in the future so we know we are measuring to common standards.”

Olivia Clishe, Senior at OHS, personally feels that the “unweighted GPA system is not a fair measure for class rank because it doesn’t take into account how hard the classes taken were,” she adds. “However, more than that, I don’t think class rank is important. To have a top one or two people creates unnecessary pressure and discredits a lot of hard working students who should be proud of their accomplishments.” Many students have very different plans for the future and academic achievement may not hold as much importance to them as compared to others. Grant shares a different take on weighting GPA in the idea that “High School should be a time to explore a variety of classes and I wouldn’t want to provide incentives that weigh some advanced courses and not others. If we were to weight classes, I would want each advanced class to receive the same amount of credit.”  

As class rank and GPA continue to foster a competitive environment at OHS, students may feel overwhelmed and pressured to perform at or above the level of their peers. Cliche thinks it’s important that we acknowledge “Each person is doing what’s best for them and class ranking assumes that everyone is validated by school whereas many students are not. Everyone has a different path and we should celebrate that,” says Clishe.