GPA modifiers disproportionately affect low-achieving students
Everyday millions of students walk with backpacks strung behind their backs to school. Although school is meant to be a competitive learning environment, meant to foster the inquisitive nature in all of them, it isn’t always the case. Every day is a fight to survive. Figuratively.
In Texas, state law requires all high schools to rank the top 10% of students. This is necessary because the top 7% of students get automatic admission to the University of Texas, one of Texas’s best colleges. Because of this law, a huge number of students are turned away from UT even when they have extracurriculars or good SAT/ACT scores because the state law simply fills the roster up with top 7%ers. This causes many students then fret about their grades, especially in competitive schools.
There are two ways of getting a good GPA. The first is obvious, to do well in school and get good grades in all classes. However the second is more cunning, to take AP/Pre-AP/Honors classes with GPA modifiers. These modifiers, once used as an incentive to take more challenging classes (why would you take a AP class and get a 90 when you could take regular and get an 100?), can be used unfairly to gain advantage with the GPA.
Our school has an AP modifier of 1.2. This is ludicrously large. When you do the math, the advantage becomes obvious. You could get an 84 in an AP class and still have a higher GPA than a perfect scorer in a regular class. This makes AP classes golden in the eyes of students. Whoever has the most AP classes, wins the GPA game. This gives high-achieving students extremely large head start, and causes less academically inclined students face a hard dilemma. Would they take the harder class (which requires 2-5x the work load) and hopefully get good grades in order to stay afloat in their rankings, or take the normal class and be forever out of the rankings? Many are pressured by their parents/future to take the harder classes and they suffer through the year, never really enjoying the class. Stressing over every test.
What’s shocking is that taking one extra 1 AP class can raise your GPA by 3 points. When our school received our sophomore rankings there was a gap of 6 points between rank 1 and rank 67 (last of top 10%)!
The main problem with this is how we motivate students. While we are somewhat incentivized to pursue knowledge during our youth, the majority of the motivation comes from hoping to get into a good college, and a good, well-paying job (what society thinks as “successful”). This fight causes many students to deviate from their pursuit of knowledge, and to find ways to short cut their way to “success”. They cheat; they cram; they join as many ‘prestigious’ extracurricular clubs, just for the hope of going to Harvard or Stanford.
We don’t learn anymore. We are just memorizing useless facts; ready to spew them out on multiple-choice tests, and then promptly forget them. The problem is that it’s hard to say which skill is more important, Math or Public Speaking. While math usually has the higher multiplier, public speaking might be more beneficial in the long run. The problem is that learning is the complete opposite of human nature. While learning is private, human nature is public, it wants us to show off and tell everyone how much better we are than the rest of us.
In short, GPAs force students to take classes that they wouldn’t or shouldn’t take, especially for low-achieving students. Most jobs don’t require the understanding Integrals or Derivatives, Titration or Allegories. However, in order for better grades, many low-achieving students take higher multiplier classes, all for that one number.
Maybe multiple ‘GPA’s should be implemented, one for each category, like the SAT. This way people can choose what to focus on, instead of forced to be good at everything.
But this unfortunately there isn’t much we can do about it. It is sad. But true.