Do grading scales change your admission chances?

Just yesterday I received the following anonymous comment on my recent post:

“Since you take numbers so seriously in the decision process, How do you allow for differences in the way school systems assign numeric values to GPA? For example, is a kid from XXXX who does not test well (SAT) out of luck because their grade point system is tougher than other systems? “

I get this ALL THE TIME so let’s set the record straight about grading systems and their impact. To start with, how do grades differ? A LOT. Think about your own school, wherever you are. Are/were there some teachers that you just knew would give you good grades, pretty much no matter how dim you might be because NO-ONE gets a bad grade from that teacher? If not, I’m sure there was at least ONE teacher who you just knew, no matter how brilliant you were or how hard you worked, was going to give you a weak grade because that teacher gives EVERYONE weak grades. Now multiply that by all the teachers in all the schools, and you get the idea that comparing grades is no simple process.

Do grading scales impact that process? That depends on a) how GPA’s are calculated and b) whether the grading scale actually changes that process. When evaluating students for admission, most colleges look at your GPA on a four point scale. If your school reports it in some other scale (My least favorite is, I kid you not, a seven point scale) then we just translate using mysterious things like “math.” At most places, your grades in class are determined on a 100 point scale, which gives you a letter grade, which then gets translated to that four point scale. So your GPA then depends on how many A’s, B’s, pluses, minuses, etc. you receive and how those correspond to the school district or university’s four point scale.

Brain hurt yet? I hope not because we’re just getting started! If you followed the above, you realized that your GPA would only change if the class grading scale changes the number of A’s or B’s you get. And I hear you saying, “well of course it does!”, but here’s what I’ve learned…there’s very little data to back this up. The only studies I’ve heard of on the topic, and mind you I haven’t seen them myself, didn’t back this up. In fact, I’ve been told by several very reliable and much more math-savvy colleagues that the studies they’ve conducted for school districts found NO CHANGE in the number of A’s, B’, C’s, D’s, and F’s awarded when the class grading scale was changed. Basically, they found that over all the teachers and all the students, the grading scale was basically irrelevant – teachers were giving out about the same letter grades as before. So, the assumption goes, teachers adjust their grading to the grading scale to create similar outcomes.

So it’s at least POSSIBLE, even reasonably possible, that the grading scale in class means very very very little to your GPA – that if they changed the grading scale you’d have still gotten that C for the work you did the night before it was due (and consider yourself lucky, mister!).

A potentially larger issue is grade inflation caused by “weighting” grades in honors, AP, and IB courses. In some cases this seems fairly reasonable – it gives a bit of help to students in tough courses. In other areas it’s just nuts. I read some files from a school system this year where students with not very challenging course loads with 3.7-3.8 GPA’s were likely to have mostly C’s and D’s, and yes that’s on a four point scale. Insanity!!! So how do colleges cope with all this difference?

Most schools review files by high school, meaning the counselor or counselors read all the applications from that school, and they are responsible for understanding that school’s weighting and grading systems. At some institutions they take this so far as to recalculate every single applicant’s high school GPA. At others, they simply read the file in the context of knowing that school. We also use other data points, such as comparing GPA from the school over years with the performance of students from that school, with the standardized test scores of applicants from that school, etc. Believe me, it’s really not that hard to evaluate a school bearing in mind the differences in grading and weighting processes they employ.

So what does that all mean? Sure, it’s possible that grading or weighting scales MIGHT make SOME difference in the admission process, especially for colleges that focus more on numbers than perhaps they should, but I’ve found fairly few of those at the very competitive institutions. In most cases, we are doing intensive evaluations of your academic record, incorporating grading scales, weighting systems, course load and difficulty, trends in grades, and, when available, how you rank in your class.

If I said that was a numeric decision, then that’s not really accurate. What’s true is that it’s a decision based on the data we have in your application. That’s pretty complete when it comes to your academic performance. What it doesn’t, and can’t, tell us is about who you really are. Even at colleges that interview, we can’t know for sure your motivation, your energy, your dedication. Every study that’s been done on these factors finds they are at least as important, and possibly more important, than your grades or test scores. That’s what I mean when I say the decision isn’t really about YOU, but about what we can know from your application materials, and that as a result it really isn’t a personal process, even when it feels like one.

I realize, of course, that parents, students, and teachers will want to explain why the C level grades on THIS application aren’t really fair and that really the student would have an ‘A’ average at any other school district. I can’t say for sure they’re wrong, but I can tell you that colleges do everything possible to try to know enough to bear such differences in mind when evaluating your applications. As evidence, take a look at the schools with the TOUGHEST grading scales, public or private. Now take a look at their placement rate at the most competitive institutions, and compare that with some districts with obviously softer grading scales. At least for the institutions where I’ve worked and consulted, those “tougher” schools got a heck of a lot more students admitted than those that were “softer.” Even so, some students from tougher schools do get denied and some from softer schools do get admitted. What’s not clear is whether or not this is an indication that colleges and universities are unfair.

This is by no means a simple or easy topic, and I didn’t even touch on the subject of SAT’s. It’s a topic around which tempers often flare and stress runs high, so please feel free to share your thoughts, and I’ll look forward to providing further insight where I can. Be seeing you.


44 Responses

  1. “We also use other data points, such as comparing GPA from the school over years with the performance of students from that school…”

    So if a student were accepted to Mason from X high school in 2006, then nearly failed out his first semester, Mason would be a lot less likely to accept another student with similar qualifications in 2007, is that correct?

    Really interesting article on the grade translations, thanks for the post!

  2. Essentially, but not entirely. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that a school would base future decisions on just one student. We look at trends over several years, and also comparing with the profile of the entering student. In other words, if a college had admitted very high GPA students from school A, and several of those students performed badly, the institution would have good reason to suspect that even good grades from that school were weak indicators of performance. More likely, however, is that a school might admit some students at the lower end of their GPA profile who performed well, encouraging the school to weight that performance positively in evaluating future applicants from that school.

  3. Thanks, you just explained a Bell Curve. You started off talking about invidicual GPA and went into collective GPA. So the answer to the question is you do NOTHING about schools that have a tougher grading system. This coming from a guy who relies solely on numbers. Your “logic” has not gone unnoticed by students and parents making their big decision. What are the chances your enrollment numbers will be down AGAIN this year?

    Brains don’t hurt. Souls do

    This has been a tough year for high school seniors applying to college. Colleges are getting greedy with the numbers. There is no allowance for emotional intelligence and no allowance for different grading scales. Do you really think we are all stupid? Your tone and logic make me think you do. Keep talking!

  4. More fun with anonymous comments!

    You are correct that I was basically describing a bell curve (in the original post, not in my comment), and that is what usually happens when individual GPA’s are aggregated. The issue is whether the curve of those grades (to use the same graphic metaphor) changes with the grading scale, or whether the number of A’s B’s, etc, and as a result the four point GPA’s awarded students, stays essentially the same. This is, of course, distinct from the weighting issue.

    In my comment, in case that was what you meant, I was decidedly not describing a bell curve. This is a simple correlation statistic used to create a predictive model.

    Interesting that you think either would change student enrollment patterns. Numbers at Mason have been up for all the time I’ve been at the institution, looking at enrollment, GPA, and test scores, and I have a hard time imaging that the students who are admitted feel somehow disadvantaged by the system.

    I agree with you, however, on college greed to some extend, but more on emotional intelligence rarely being a factor in the admission process. It is unfortunate that there are not yet ways where emotional intelligence has been standardized for use in an admission process, but the research from Dr. Sedlacek at the University of Maryland provides some hopeful direction.

    Obviously I don’t think people, students, or blog readers are stupid, or I wouldn’t bother providing any insight. Many colleges seem to believe that telling such truths isn’t worth the bother or time, but I’ll continue to do my best to answer any questions honestly and in a forthright manner. That doesn’t mean everyone will like the answers, but it doesn’t imply any judgement on my part. It seems obvious that the admission process is not very successful in its current form at determining intelligence, and hope that most institutions will continue to challenge their methods to try and improve this system.

  5. You’re good at this. I need help. A grade of C+ is a 2.5. I received an 82 in Calculus. In my school, that is a C+ (2.5) . In other schools that would be a letter grade of B (3.0). As I calculate my GPA, this could potentially make me under 3.0 (the cutoff you have assigned to my high school). My high school provides you with numbers that create a perfect Bell Curve (just like the schools with the other grading scales). These numbers are based on a scale of 100 being perfect. Since numbers are so very important in this market, how does George Mason allow for this discrepancy? My entire Calculus class looks forward to your “decision”.

  6. First, more clarification: no one grade or score is going to get you into, or likely keep you out of, a college or university. Mason, like most schools, looks at your whole academic record – yes your GPA, in the context of your school, but also the courses you took, trends in grades, and grades in academic courses (English, math, science, social studies, and foreign languages). Like most schools, Mason does not have a “cutoff” for your school or any other. We do look at your application (grades, scores, talent, essays, etc) in comparison with other applicants, bearing in mind all of differences I noted in previous posts.
    In other words, we don’t need to change one grade in one course to evaluate your record. In this case, however, you make an assumption that may or may not be in evidence. You said your 82, which is a C+ would be a B at any other school. Perhaps – but also perhaps at the school with the softer grading scale the teacher would have adjusted his or her grading to the new scale, and you might have just as easily received a 78 there, earnging the same C+…You might even have ended up in a course with a really difficult teacher who just had it in for you and gave you a 75, earning a C instead.
    The point is, second guessing what might or might not have happened at another school isn’t obvious unless the other school had the same teacher, books, tests, and the same student body. As I said before, my understanding from the school district staff is that the letter grades assigned didn’t decline when the tougher grading scale was put into place, and that it still hasn’t shifted significantly. If true, that means that it’s LIKELY (not proven by any means) that if the school shifted back to a softer grading scale, the teachers would adjust as I’ve mentioned, and you’d still have the same grade. Maybe. Of course, maybe not.

    I’ve been asked several times my standpoint. As a parent and PTA president-elect in at least one of the school districts in question (Fairfax) I’ve recommended that the school board carefully examine the data and, if no difference in grades assigned is found, change the scale back. Basically it doesn’t seem to be doing much other than causing students confusion and stress. On the other hand, the school disctrict has one of the best rates of student placement in college in the nation…so how much can the current system really be hurting?

    Just some things to consider…but rest assured your school has no cutoff. Yes, very few students under a 3.0 are being admitted (actually fairly few under a 3.5) to Mason, but that’s based on the growth in applications (already fast before we had the Final Four thing), not on bias against any school. It’s harder for EVERYONE to get into Mason now than it was a few years ago, which doesn’t seem surprising at all to me. Fortunately there are still plenty of Virginia schools accepting students who won’t qualify for Mason this year, and we have a great rate of success with students transferring from the community college system – which goes back to my advice on how to handle and think about your admission decision.

  7. Lie #1 : Like most schools, Mason does not have a “cutoff” for your school or any other.

    Lie #2: perhaps at the school with the softer grading scale the teacher would have adjusted his or her grading to the new scale, and you might have just as easily received a 78 there, earnging the same C+…(What are you smoking!)

    This is true: On the other hand, the school disctrict has one of the best rates of student placement in college in the nation…so how much can the current system really be hurting?
    (This is true ….. very true. These tougher grading scale schools have a population of educated parents on watch. They have heard and dealt with a great deal of double talk. . One of the things these parents value is seeing their kids become happy, healthy adults. Your blog represents more double talk and no substance).

    Lie #3: but rest assured your school has no cutoff
    (I smell some funny smoke here)

    FUNNY: (the Final Four thing), (are you serious…is this a joke)

    BIG LIE: Numbers at Mason have been up for all the time I’ve been at the institution, looking at enrollment, GPA, and test scores, and I have a hard time imaging that the students who are admitted feel somehow disadvantaged by the system.
    (You actually found a study to justify this….tell all those imposed with a freeze for being underenrolled).

    At the end of the day….GMU is a place where kids from FCPS still get stuck going to because they did not get into their first choice. To add insult to injury, their credits don’t always transfer. Keep talking.

  8. I sympathize with you. A lack of facts can be frustrating. I continue to post your comments largely beause I think it’s helpful for others to see how easily misunderstandings form in the process.

    Schools rarely use cutoffs, and Mason does not. I’m sorry you have trouble accepting how the system works, but really what possible reason could I have for providing something other than the way the process really works? The reality is that, due to the competitiveness of our applicant pool, we have very few students from any school that will be admitted with GPA’s below a 3.0 – but the vast majority of our admitted students are well above 3.5, so that’s not terribly surprising. The variation comes largely from understanding the differences in GPA’s and in other considerations in the process beyond GPA. Even if a school did employ a cutoff GPA, that wouldn’t imply that a grade in any one class would be a trigger. If you want data on the subject, Collegeboard, ACT, and the National Research Council have all produced detailed research on college admissions and none found cut offs operating at competitive universities. They have been used more widely at schools usually considered open enrollment where a community college, for instance, might require a mimimum of a high school diploma with some base level GPA.

    You’re right, however, that Fairfax has great parents (myself among them). So do other districts, private schools, etc. Do you have any evidence that the process disadvantages Fairfax students, or is this just more conjecture? As I wrote, I believe the issue of the grading scale needs to be studied, but I have first hand experience that admissions offices benefit, not disadvantage, Fairfax students. Do you have anything to offer to the contrary?

    As for numbers, several of Mason’s units didn’t make their targets, but enrollment overall remains up, and all profile factors are up dramatically. Unfortunately, state support was cut this year. Areas below target felt additional impact, but others were increased. If you’ve been led to believe otherwise, that’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t change Mason’s continued growth and increasing competitiveness. No doubt some portion of this success can be attributed to the Final Four run. Mason had a 24% increase in applications the following year which we have sustained this recruitment season. Are you seriously surprised that all of the media attention drew applications from across the country and around the world? While I don’t advocate the influence that athletics has on the recuritment process, you are surely misinformed more than your posts indicate if you don’t understand how much exposure the Final Four created, and how that tracks with applications and admission standards. Maryland saw similar increases after their national football championship, and I would expect Davidson is now on far more students’ radars than it was at this time last year.

    Considering how you feel about Mason, and I realize this sounds harsh, if I denied you it seems like a sound decision. I will admit I’d be biased against any applicants with your attitude, Fairfax or otherwise. Fortunately, many applicants are clear that Mason is their first choice. If you demonstrated a lack of enthusiasm for schools in your applications, this may be part of the basis for your decisions, as opposed to any supposed cutoffs or bias.

    It’s certainly clear from your tone that the admissions process didn’t work in your favor. Hopefully some of the suggestions elsewhere in the blog might be of help, and I hope for the best in your future educational pursuits.

  9. I, as a parent, just want to say you have a very tough job, and thanks for taking it seriously. We have bigger problems than grade inflation in Texas, because state schools here are mandated to take anyone in the top 10% of their high school. This clearly favors mediocre students from lousy schools, only because they have the numbers to overwhelm the good state schools.

  10. I am sure that Mason basketball increased college admissions for freshmen for the following year. My question is, “What was the tranfer out/drop out rate of those freshman that were attracted following the year that Mason went to the Final Four?”

  11. This is a great question, but it’s still too soon to tell, and may never be entirely possible. Too soon, since the Final Four happended after all of our applications had already been received that year, and after most of our class had already deposited. Our number of students accepting admission offers that year was up only slightly from the year before, and the national studies would say that most students had already made up their minds before the Final Four run. The next year (for Fall 2007) we enjoyed a 24% increase in applications, more than doubling our increase from the prior year, and no doubt a good amount of that can be attributed to all the Final Four coverage. Far fewer of those early additional applicants accepted our offer than the prior year, and I think that’s where the biggest impact will be felt. Our retention rate was up for the Fall 2006 students, so there was actually a decline in their transfer/drop rate.

    Looking at this year, we’ve held onto the increase in applicants. I won’t know the acceptance rate of our offers until after May 1, but we are currently way ahead of any prior year and seem on track, without a final four, to have a significant increase in that rate. Based on registrations for fall, retention is up again as well.

    It may never be possible to know which students were attracted to any college by athletics, academics, or because their significant other chose the school, but at this point it appears that whatever reason students are selecting Mason are good ones!

  12. Dean Flagel, thank you for publishing this blog and making us aware of it. Before I get to my question, I’d just like to give you a pat on the back for handling tense, emotional comments (not to mention slurs against your character by complete strangers) with such grace and professionalism. This speaks highly of you and of your institution.

    Now, here is my question. In an anonymous small public school, Student X and Student Y are the top achievers in their class — not only academically, but in multiple ECs (sports, fine arts, student government). Their graduating class will be so small that only one student can be in the top 5% of the class — and a second student can be in the top 10% only if there’s some rounding.

    The school does not weight grades. Student X has taken the most challenging courses available; in fact, the school will write and offer a new course next year because X has exhausted all options. Student Y has taken a much less challenging curriculum; on receiving a progress report that reflected a low grade in a core elective, Y immediately dropped the course and determined not to take any more courses in that field.

    X has an unweighted GPA of 3.9 and has raised that GPA incrementally with every report card since sophomore year; Y has an unweighted GPA of 4.0. Because grades are not weighted, the rigor of their respective programs of study will not affect their class rankings. Nor will the school factor college credits (which X is pursuing this summer) into GPA or ranking. The class ranking will almost certainly end up with Y as #1 and X as #2. In a school that weights grades, the students’ ranks definitely would be reversed. This means that although X is performing head and shoulders above all other students, X is not now and (barring some major slip-up on Y’s part) will not ever be in the top 5% of the class.

    The two students are friends, but have different plans and probably won’t submit competing applications anywhere. The school has no history of admission or application to the colleges X is interested in — while the curriculum is rigorous, the school is young and its students have typically preferred to accept large scholarships at local universities.

    With all of this background, here at last is my question. 🙂 Is there anything that student X or the school’s GC can include in (admissions and/or scholarship) applications that will help to explain the situation in a positive manner? X would never want to say something negative to anyone about Y, nor would the GC. However, this situation does seem to hurt X, who is applying to selective colleges and will need to apply for multiple third-party scholarships in order to afford tuition.

    Is there any way for X to handle this, short of wishing ill toward good friend Y?

  13. Oy – this post is almost like an algebra problem (NOT my favorite subject!). However, I think the answer is actually pretty easy. Seems very reasonable, and in no way hurtful or negative for ‘Y’, for the guidance counselor and/or ‘X’ him or herself to emphasize the rigor of ‘X”s curriculum, and highlight that, as wonderful as salutatorian is, he or she would likely have been valedictorian if the school followed the inflationary grade practices of most high schools. Most colleges will respect and note that.
    Some guidance counsellors MIGHT even be comfortable indicating to some institutions that the student IS the valedictorian. We have several schools in this region with multiple (even many) valendictorians…

    Of course, this is a good reason why rank gets so confusing, just like grades, etc. And the odds are that most of the highly competitive colleges and universities will take a sufficiently deep read of the application that the grading scale and the rankings will be far less important than the actual grades and rigor of courses, so you have that going for you.

  14. Thank you, Dean Flagel. Your answer makes perfect sense for the admissions situation, and I guess it’s worth a try for the scholarship applications too. The notion of multiple valedictorians ties my brain in knots; it sounds just like the kind of ridiculous nonsense the school is trying to avoid! But a “would likely have been…” note from the GC sounds like a great idea. The administration has talked about changing the basis for ranking in order to discourage GPA protectionism… just not gonna happen before X and Y graduate. Thanks again!

  15. Dean Flagel, I am one of the co-founders of FAIRGRADE, a parent advocacy group in Fairfax County that has gathered research and now recommends that FCPS revise its grading policies. In addition, I was an undergraduate admissions officer at Georgetown from 1989-92 and 1996-99. I was also an admissions reader at Duke University from 2006-2007. Prior to my time at Georgetown, I was a student intern at UPenn’s admissions office and have continued to be an alumni interview for UPenn.

    Through my admission work at Georgetown, Duke and Penn, along with my FAIRGRADE research, I am greatly concerned about the “grade depression” that currently exists in FCPS schools.

    While the FCPS SAT average in 2005 was almost 100 points higher than the national average, the 2005 FCPS cumulative gpa was lower than the national average. In addition, at Langley HS, only 5% of the 2007 graduates earned a weighted 4.0 gpa or higher, but it was 20-36% at 5 other nationally ranked high schools that included Churchill HS, Wellesley HS, Palos Verdes HS, Manhassat HS, and HM Gunn HS in Silicon Valley. All 6 of these schools, including Langley, had comparable SAT V/M and %4 year college statistics.

    In addition, 16 school districts have converted to the more commonly used 10 Point Scale in just the last 3 years because their research also showed that the “tougher” grading scale put their students at a disadvantage.

    I just read your remarks from April 2nd, and I want to reiterate that the FAIRGRADE research has shown that FCPS students do have lower gpas in comparison to other comparble high schools with similar SAT V/M.

    At larger out-of-state universities or those with less selective/holistic admissions procedures, the FCPS students are at a disadvantage for both admissions and scholarship opportunites, along with losing out on car insurance discounts related to gpas, and meeting NCAA eligibility standards.

    FAIRGRADE has never suggested that changing the FCPS grading policies will increase admissions to VA public universities, though it’s possible The bigger issue is that 30-35% of the freshmen seats at VA ‘s universities go to out-of-state students. Thus, it continues to be more difficult to get into the VA colleges and even more important for FCPS students to compete out of state.

    You and I both know that there is no single standard for college admissions review, but FCPS can ensure that its grading policies are in-step with the national landscape by comparing its policies against the nation’s top performing high schools.

    Outside of VA and a few southeastern states, the FCPS 6/10 hybrid scale is unusual and does not put its students on a level playing field.

    As a local dean of admissions and FCPS parent, it is vital that you continue to encourage FCPS officials to provide hard data that demonstrates how a 6/10 hybrid scale will better serve its students than the more common 10 Point Scale. I am serving on a joint FAIRGRADE/FCPS research team but community awareness is important to this important effort.

    FAIRGRADE’s research shows that among 45 nationally ranked high schools, only 1 of the 34 who used an official letter grading scale, employed a 6 point scale, while the other 33 high schools use the 10 Point scale, and they clearly produce top performing students.

    The current FCPS policies are over 30-40 years old. They may have served a purpose long ago, but now they are detriment to FCPS students, especially as they compete at a national level.

    Thank you for your consideration of my remarks.
    Respectfully, Megan McLaughlin/FAIRGRADE

  16. Actually, as a local dean of admissions and as a parent, I think it’s vital not to overreact. Correlating grade points with SATs is interesting, but hardly evidence that the system is disadvantaging students. Apart from the assumption that the scores have meaning (according to the National Research Council, anything less than a 100-point difference is statistically meaningless, so being almost 100 points higher is not statistically all that interesting), it provides no insight as to how colleges and universities use those grades. Furthermore if, as some have suggested, the grades students receive would not change, only adjust to the new scale, the assumption that the difference in scores doesn’t imply a problem with the grading scale. It may be, for instance, that the correlation of performance on the SAT with family wealth, or the effort of Fairfax schools to prepare students for standardized tests, is a reason that SAT scores are HIGH, not evidence that grades are LOW.

    As I’ve said before, I’m reluctant to take a side in a debate that largely focuses on conjecture and hyperbole based on weak statistical models. What is needed is more practical research on the issue, and discussion that spends less time conflating the issues of grading scale with weighting and rank issues, both of which are likely to have equal or larger impact on the admissions process.

    I’m not saying by any stretch that I think the current grading scale is the one Fairfax should keep. I also think the idea that changing the grading scale (or weighting, or rank) will cause the schools to be perceived by colleges as less competitive, or somehow giving in to grade inflation is being way overstated.

    I have suggested, and will continue to do so, that what is needed is an independent study of the grading scale issues, possibly coordinated by a steering committee including proponents of the current system and including representatives from the community that believe it needs to change.

    As a parent, and a dean, I embrace ongoing efforts to review and enhance our schools. I am also very cognizant that Fairfax schools are consistently rated among, if not the, best in the nation. My own interactions with other deans and directors of guidance indicate that our placement rate among the most competitive institutions in higher education rivals many of the most elite private preparatory high schools. While I don’t discount issues of NCAA certification or car insurance discounts, I think it’s useful to view the discussion over grading scale with this in mind. It’s hard to imagine that there are systems that can’t be improved, but with thoughtful and committed educators on both sides of this debate I will continue to advocate for additional study and constructive discussion.

    I do, however, think MY son’s GPA should be a little higher. Despite his great scores, I remain dissapointed in his overall performance. He tells me to relax, that he’s planning to really focus in first grade, but I keep telling him those Kindergarten grades stick with you…

  17. Dean Flagel,

    Thank you for your prompt reply to my remarks. While I agree additional research will benefit this discussion, I will emphasize that the FAIRGRADE research is not based on hyperbole, conjecture or weak statistical models.

    Equally important, I hope you were trying to inject levity vs sarcasm with the reference to your kindergarten son’s grades. Sadly, this is a very serious issue that impacts over 6,000 FCPS graduates each year who continue on to 4 year universities.

    Please bear in mind, that Fairgrade specifically asked FCPS for its 1997 research study on their grading policies, in order to understand the justification for such policies. Unfortunately, FCPS said this study data could not be located. Fairgrade then asked for a “task force” to conduct much needed research and analysis to demonstrate whether or not the existing grading policies

    Sadly, FCPS officials said “this is not a majority issue of concern among FCPS parents” and there is no justification for future study at this time. Yet, the policies had not been reviewed in 11 years and there was no empirical data to support the current policies. As most people are aware, college admissions acceptance rates have dropped substantially in the last ten years and will not be improving in the next ten years or more.

    Thus, Fairgrade did the best it could, given that FCPS does NOT keep on hand the unweighted GPA data for its students. The only comparison FAIRGRADE could make was the Weighted GPA of Langley versus 5 other nationally ranked high schools with similar college profiles. We have more unweighted GPA data from other nationally recognized schools. Either way, it DOES demonstrate that Langley’s 5% is substantially below the 20-36% of the other schools.

    This comparison is not so much “statistical” as it is a “snapshot” of a very REAL problem that FCPS officials were reluctant to examine until Fairgrade gathered relevant data and presented it to the FCPS community. To date, over 5.000 Fairfax citizens have signed the FAIRGRADE online petition because they share this very concern.

    As for your SAT score dismisal, I believe there is a greater issue you aren’t acknowledging. If one were to presume that the FCPS SAT is inflated due to “family wealth” or “test preparedness”, and this could explain why the FCPS SAT score is almost 100 points higher than the national average, then are you suggesting that FCPS students ARE NOT top performing, highly desirable students? For if their cum GPA mirrors the national average, then it shows that they are simply that…among the average in classroom performance versus above-average or top performers among the nation’s high school students.

    Frankly, I believe that because Fairfax County has one of the most highly educated populations in the US, its students are academically talented and they receive a top quality education from FCPS. Thus, their GPA average should be substantially higher than the national GPA average, with or without the SAT as another indicator of this.

    Ultimately, the issue rests upon having grading policies that reflect the national landscape so that FCPS students can compete for admissions and scholarships on a national level. In addition, its worth repeating that the state of FL’s drop out rate decreased and its graduation rates increased when they shifted to the 10 Point Scale statewide.

    How can anyone dismiss this outcome, along with the other 16 school districts that have switched, as not being relevant and significant to this discussion?

    One final note, I am sure you know Former UPenn Dean of Admissions Lee Stetson. Even he is incredulous as to why FCPS would not want to adopt a 10 Point grading scale. He called our current grading scale “antiquated” and I completely agree.

    Megan McLaughlin/FAIRGRADE

  18. Of course I was joking about my son. As I seek to be appropriately sensitive, in the future I will try to note when I am being sarcastic for members of the audience that may be humorously-challenged. And so, please note, that was also sarcasm. And this blog is chock-full of sarcasm. For non-sarcastic discussion of education issues I highly recommend Jay Matthew’s blog/message board on the site.

    And now back to the issue: I am not saying thatFairfax county students are not high performing. However, the assumption that they are equally or higher performing than other schools, and that this should be reflected in higher GPA’s, is an assertion, not a statement of fact. While I, like our other parents here in Lake Wobegon (that’s an NPR reference AND sarcasm) have confidence that ALL of our children are above average, my point was that higher SAT scores don’t prove that the students should have higher GPA’s. Apart from what the SAT’s test (which is VERY limited), the difference you note isn’t statistically significant. This is what I mean by conjecture, or maybe weak statistical models…you can pick.

    As you mention, in order to justify your assertions based on your study methodology , you must make the assumption that differences in GPA are based on grading scale, not on weighting systems. This is at least an unproven assertion, and I believe it is a significant fallacy. This is what I mean by weak statistical models…or maybe conjecture.

    Again, this is not to say that you are wrong, only to provide some context. I agree that Fairfax schools should study the issue, and make their data available. But you also claim this affects all 6,000 students that go one to four year institutions. The many students on scholarship at their first choice institutions, for instance, likely don’t feel terribly ill-served by the system. So there’s your hyperbole.

    Again, I am not dismissing your outcomes, or your opinions on the issue. They are not irrelevant or insignificant. They are, however, inconclusive. I join you in calling for further study, and hope that FCPS will take a reasonable approach to exploring the issue, as I have recommended at each opportunity. At a time of great budget distress, however, I am very interested in what such a study and grade scale conversion would cost, and believe that cost issue must be thoughtfully weighed against other budget priorities.

    Before I forget, another bit of hyperbole on the college acceptance rate issue. My recollection is that while a handful of colleges (Mason among them) have gotten dramatically more competitive, the national data on four year institutions (see that NACAC annual study of admissions and the Department of Education Pathways studies) show that overall freshman acceptance rates to four year institutions have changed only marginally. At the same time, student transfer rates have increased, as have spaces for transfer students. As a result, student placement into their first choice institutions is largely stable. With the current demographic projections, that access level is expected to improve. Most of the hype around the issue seems tied to the massive increase in applications per student that has been precipitated by the ease of online applications rather than a substantive change in the acceptance rate.

    Finally, with all due to respect to Lee and his opinions, this issue remains to my thinking something of a red herring. While a grading scale may or may not change student competitiveness for admission and scholarships, there is no doubt about very wide dispartity in weighting systems, and perhaps an even greater disadvantage around the ranking issue. I strongly suggest including these issues in any study and final propsosal, as they are likely to have a greater impact on the largest number of students. And look – I managed a whole paragraph without sarcasm. Oops.

  19. I am pleased to learn that you have a healthy sense of humor, and I will be sure to read your future remarks accordingly.

    While you and I could go “14 rounds” on the various issues of grading scales and college admissions, I will try to submit a brief rebuttal to your most recent remarks. (Keep in mind, I am Irish and we are NOT known for our brevity)

    First, you and I both know that high school grades are the most important factor in college admissions. Everything else builds from there. Strong SATs are not enough to overcome weaker grades. The Nat. Merit Semi-Finalist from Robinson HS who just got denied from JMU this year is a perfect example.

    Why should a FCPS student who has earned a 93 in a class be awarded a B+ when in many other jurisdictions, it would be an A/A-? Why should a FCPS student who earns an 83, be awarded a C+ when it would be B in many other jurisdictions? It’s about fairness and parity for college admissions and student morale/stress levels.

    At Gtown, we reviewed applicants both within their high school and then in committee against applicants from around the country. If the committee saw Bs , or even worse any Cs on the transcript, then that was a drawback.

    You are absolutely correct that FCPS is NOT the only stellar public school system in the US. In fact, only 3 FCPS high schools made the US News Top 100 Public HS List for 2008. As such, FCPS students are competing nationally against a large pool of other highly regarded public schools. Thus, having comparable grading policies does matter.

    Second, with respect to college acceptance rates, the media, including NACAC, have reported heavily on the college admissions crunch. It’s not simply a handful of colleges. Demographics show there will only be a 3% decline in high school graduates over the next ten years. Given that college admissions rates have dropped substantially at a large portion of desirable colleges, including GMU, this is an important factor facing applicants in the decade to come.

    Third, it is far from hyperbole about students losing out on their first choices. Why would 5,000 citizens sign this petition if it were hyperbole? The sad reality is that FCPS guidance counselors can attest that there are many talented students who are finding it more difficult than ever to get into their top choices.
    In addition, FCPS students are losing thousands of dollars in merit scholarships simply due to GPA, not SATs. Parents continue to contact FAIRGRADE to share their specific stories of lost scholarship money.

    To see the admissions rate drop at a many desirable schools, including GMU, while the SAT and GPAs profile goes up, this is a reflection of how much tougher the admissions environment has grown in the last 5-10 years.

    As for weighting and ranking, I do believe that the FCPS policy of “not weighting honors courses” is equally problematic and is also part of the FAIRGRADE petition. Thankfully, FCPS does not rank, but sadly they don’t provide any GPA distribution charts either. Thus, there is very little context for understanding the GPAs that come out of FCPS.

    Finally, I noted in my first response that the FAIRGRADE wanted to use “unweighted” GPA data but FCPS doesn’t maintain these stats, so only “weighted” GPA averages were available. This prevents an accurate comparison of raw GPAs across high schools and if grade inflation or grade depression actually exists.

    When 65-68% of the FCPS continue on to 4 year colleges, the issues of grading scales and “honors/AP course weighting” do matter.

    16 school districts and the state of FL chose to convert to the 10 Point Scale because they worried about their college bound graduates, and in reducing their drop-out rates, and in protecting athletes from losing their NCAA eligibility. (How many FCPS high school athletes have been ineligible to play in high school, due to grades that would be higher elsewhere?)

    Thank you for indulging my point of view 🙂

  20. Very much agreed that grades are the most important factor, but not so agreed on the article about the Robinson student. With all due respect to Jay Matthews, there was far more to the story.

    But let’s get back to your real point, which is that Fairfax students are disadvantaged because they will receive lower grades becuase of the grading scale. As I understand it, the FCPS rebuttal is that teachers grade to the scale, so a B on one scale is likely to still get a B on another scale. I think this shows the FCPS sense of humor, since if the grading scale doesn’t matter, why not go ahead and change it to what you suggest? If the number of A’s B’s etc will remain the same, than it’s not any type of grade inflation to change the scale…

    Nevertheless, the point still remains that the assumption that a different scale will yield different grades is still an assumption, not a statement of fact. Seems to me a reasonable assumption, but that doesn’t make it automatically correct.

    As for Georgetown, I’ve often joked with Dean Charlie Deacon about the ease of reading applications there, “legacy …yes. Not a legacy or an athlete…no name on a building…no.” I mean how hard can that process really be?

    But seriously – of course at G-town you screened out the B’s and C’s, leaving a fair number of applicants with all A’s. I can name several counties where grade inflation runs rampant, and where we routinely deny students with far higher GPA’s, as I’m sure my colleagues could, so you should have PLENTY of applicants still to deny. Would a few percenatge points for the few spaces open to non-legacies have made that big a difference? Isn’t it more likely that those same students who would squeak in that extra A would then have been at the lower end of your non-legacy unathletic straight A’s?

    And if that is not that case, than I’d say that process was VERY broken – any student that close to admissibility should be read carefully and given fair consideration, including understanding the grading system. We certainly did at University of Michigan and GW, as well as the National Young Leaders Conference, my prior institutions.

    Of course there are plenty of other ways that admissions can be, unfortunately, capricious and arbitrary (or is that redundant?). Does that mean high schools should adjust their grading to these systems? Why not curriculum as well? The best chances of admission at the moment seems to sit with male dancers or players of double reeded instruments. Quick, grab your oboes and tutu’s! (note – I realize that entirely fails to make my point, but the opportunity to suggest you grab your oboes and tutu’s was too good to go back and edit out).

    As for the media, the intense focus on a handful of schools is entertaining and sells papers, but be wary of assuming that media reports with no data have any substance. The schools that lower their admission standards to make their classes aren’t going out there bragging. It’s easier to incite a panic than to get to the truth, and sadly even Jay Matthews seems to have gone this direction in his recent blog and columns on the topic. (of course – Mason standards continue to climb meteorically, just in case you do prefer your schoosl to be more exclusive).

    I agree that a full study of the FCPS grading systems will require access to unweighted and weighted grades. I also think the kind of review Fairgrade has done of grading scales should also be applied to the awarding of class rank and weighting systems. Then the full grading system can be reviewed in context.

    And you are very welcome – not at all an indulgence. I shudder to think how bland it would be if no one questioned such things, and I do very much support the importance of the issues you raise.

  21. I am sure Dean Deacon @ Gtown simply loves your assessment of his admissions practices 🙂 Having seen it from the inside, there were both strengths and weaknesses to how decisions were made…but that another lengthy matter all together.

    With respect to admissions review and grades, it would never be 1 or 2 grades that affect an outcome. But as our “preliminary” research uncovered, the Langley statistic showed that the number of its 4.0 WGPA graduates is 400-700% less than the other 5 comparable high schools. That’s a substantial difference.

    At other competitive FCPS high schools, the 4.0 WGPA ranged from 3% (McLean) to 4% (Westfields) to 6% (Woodson). None of these stats come close to 20-36% statistics from the other nationally recognized public high schools. Again, its a “snapshot” that indicates a problem exists and why further research is warranted.

    I am pleased to hear that you support the need for FCPS to review its grading policies. Until FAIRGRADE gathered and presented its research to the parent community and they responded with outrage, the FCPS officials had been unwilling to gather empirical evidence with respect to their grading policies.

    Hopefully, an objective, collaborative and thorough review of the FCPS policies by the FAIRGRADE/FCPS research team will occur and important revisions will be made.

    By the way, have you ever spoken with the FCPS officials about their “high school profiles” that accompany the applicant’s transcript? I would be very curious about your assessment because given the hundreds of “school profiles” that I have seen over the years, I find the FCPS “school profile” does not provide enough meaningful context for admissions staff to effectively review the FCPS applicants and to appreciate its particularly competitve environment. I have offered to volunteer more of my time to assist them with this, but I was definitely surprised that a county of this size and stature would not have a more sophisticated “high school profile”.

    Again, thank you for providing your insights on the issue of high school grading scales and college admissions.

  22. I think your point is very valid, it’s just unclear whether the cause you cite, the grading scale, is actually the culprit. In the past year I’ve noted a number of high schools where the numbers are vastly higher than comparable FCPS students, but this is based on ridiculously inflated weighting scales, not differing grades. Without comparing unweighted grades to weighted grades, which I assume the study FCPS is conducting will do, it’s very difficult to assign grading scale as the cause of the discrepancy.

    I haven’t reviewed the FCPS profiles in some time, since we’re very familiar with the schools, but I’ll do so – thanks for the suggestion!

  23. […] end, here’s a helpful link from another college blog that I highly recommend regarding GPA and Class Rank. It is written by a guy that works in George Mason admissions, the […]

  24. Hi Dean Flagel, my friend Alex and I recently started a blog about the college admissions process from the perspective of students who just got done with it all (we’re both Class of 2012 at Yale) at and we linked this article because we felt that it is a must-read in terms of understanding the problems with comparing GPAs from different schools. You can find the link in this entry:
    If it would not be too much trouble, we would appreciate it if you would mention our blog as a resource if you ever need a resource on the college admissions from the students point of view (as yours is from the admissions office’s point of view). Thank you very much, I have enjoyed reading many of your posts and look forward to future posts!

  25. Dean Flagel: Thank you for your information. I am wondering what, if any, different admissions criteria are used for military school graduates. At FUMA, the number of diploma credits is less than FCPS, but my son (and most others) seem to know more about a subject because they take 6 classes, one at a time for 7 weeks and go VERY indepth into a subject. So, do you and other colleges consider this type of program when considering applicants? Thank you so much!

  26. Things work basically the same way, with the context of military academies/schools being carefully taken into account. In other words, the different ways of grading and different patterns of offering courses are well known to university admissions officers, and we evaluate the applicants in that context. There is little advantage or disadvantage to being from any particular school from that standpoint.

  27. I just computed my son’s GPA and found it to be almost 2 tenths lower due to the FCPS grading system. He had a number of “+” grades that would have rounded up. I doubt that colleges using GPAs as screening tools would take the time to convert the FCPS system to a “normal” grading system where 90-100 = A. Most high school grades are not subjective, but they are based upon mathematical results (i.e., the number of right answers on a test or quiz, or the average scores of different weighted requirements, some of which may be subjective, based upon on a 100 scale). Thus, the “subjective grades on a bell curve argument” carries less weight in that environment. And, collective results like the total number of As or Bs not changing much is irrelevant to the issue of individual GPAs. I think the FCPS grading system is hurting our best and brightest. Differences in weighing AP courses, etc. is another issue and also can skew grades unfairly for colleges if high schools are using different systems. Why would the FCPS system want to disadvantage its own students with a grading system that lowers GPAs?

  28. The seven point grading scale is completly unfair!

  29. The seven point grading scale is totally not fair, it causes alot of stress!

  30. Bob #1 – while the assumption that grades are numeric makes sense, it’s also base don an assumption that the numeric tests will be equally difficult regardless of grading scale. Again, there is a very reasonable possiblity that teachers adjust their grading/difficulty of tests, etc, to the grading scale, then giving out the same number of A’s, B’s, etc. If course, as I’ve written, it defies imagination that the scale doesn’t have ANY impact, but the amount of impact is likely to be FAR smaller than the amount of rhetoric around the topic suggests. This is particularly because, even though not all colleges recalculate GPA, most do read by high school and district and have a very strong idea of how to evaluate those students.

    Bob2 and Shashawnia – scales aren’t unfair – scales are numeric. People can be unfair – life itsef might be unfair – but a consistent grading scale is the opposite of unfair. It may put some students at a disadvantage, but the easiest solution would be to give EVERYONE really high grades – would that seem fair? As for causing stress – I continue to feel that the way the topic has been presented creates stress – by students falsely believing that changing the grading scale would make a huge difference in admissions decisions. While I find it hard to believe it wouldn’t make ANY difference, it’s very likely the differences will be very small.

  31. So I know that this has been answered already but, I still don’t really understand how if your school has a higher standard grading scale than another how your scores wouldn’t be adjusted to me theirs. For example I go to a private school and I am pretty sure we have a 4 point scale. an E is 69% and a B 87% if that helps identify, sorry if I a ignorant on the matter. While the public school down the street from me a B is an 80%. I have a 2.9 something GPA and if I had been compared to their grading scale I would easily have over a 3.0. So I don’t really understand how it all works if I were to be compared for a college with another student who’s school had and easier scale.
    please help

    • Don’t feel bad – many incredibly bright people continue to wrestle with this issue. The first way the whole thing gets confused is over whether grading scales have anything to do with how many A’s, B’s and C’s are given out. Intuitively, of course, we assume that teachers use the same numeric scale, so a tougher grading scale would mean fewer A’s, more F’s, etc. Many teachers, and according to my colleagues on the secondary side, several studies, report that teachers tend to normalize their grades to the grading scale. In other words, a teacher that would normally give 10% of the class A’s will give out that same number of A’s regardless of grading scale.

      Whew – that was still confusing. But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that there’s at least a reasonable chance that grading scales don’t have as large an impact on grades as we usually assume. If so, than changing the grading scale won’t dramatically impact grade point average.

      As I’ve said, it defies imagination to suppose that grading scales make NO difference – but it’s just as possible that they make far less of a difference than people often assume.

  32. Okay that makes a little more sense. Just one smaller question. For example my Chem teacher doesn’t follow our schools grading scale. He takes the highest grade of all his classes and that is the A standard then compares them to all the other tests quizes etc. How do method like this come into consideration?

    • It makes no difference in the great debate on grading scale – in fact it makes my point, in that such a teacher is likely to give out the same grades regardless of the scale the school uses.
      What you’re bringing up is the question about whether a “tough” teacher screwing up your grades is an issue – of course it hurts your GPA when you have a teacher that gives few A’s. The hard truth is that colleges really don’t care, and really hate seeing “my teachers grade harder than anyone else who applied to your school” as an essay topic. We have no way to know who is and isn’t a hard grader, and of course the reality is that every school probably has its share of tough graders (again, this is all apart from the grading scale debate). Although there’s no doubt there are teachers and schools on the fringe – a high school that prides itself on sticking to a bell curve of grades, or some teacher that truly enjoys giving D’s and F’s – for the most part these issues don’t get factored into the admissions process. As I’ve said before, the admissions process fairly simple – it’s far from perfect, and truly is generally unfair…but it is simple. Be seeing you.

  33. Thank you very much for this blog Dean Flagel. It offers a great deal of thought provoking statistics, facts, and anecdotes in support of both arguments. In particular the reasonable exchange between yourself and Megan McLaughlin helps to better present the issues from both perspectives.

    Stats and anecdotal evidence can often be framed to support most any argument. And in a case like this one — in which there seems to be a lack of broad, thorough statistics available from FCPS or at the national level that would help us reach a conclusive solution — a great deal of effort is spent citing narrow instances and anecdotes supporting either approach.

    I wonder, rather than go back and forth on the issue why not simply eliminate the problem altogether by using what appears today to be a growing de facto “ten point” standard at the national level? If this results in an adjustment by Fairfax County teachers in the way that they assess and award As, Bs, Cs, and Ds, then so be it. Statistically this effect should have also occurred in all the other districts that use the “ten point” system — if the argument that this effect does occur at all is indeed a valid one. The point is that changing to the more widely applied standard results in one consistent grading system, subject consistently to any and all associated “pros” and “cons”.

    Why is it that some continue to argue for a system that introduces any possibility of variable interpretation, when there is any evidence at all or any possibility at all that FCPS high school graduates may not get evaluated equally at any college or university?

    Converge on a standard approach. Eliminate this as a possible cause for discrimination against students from school districts that apply a six point system, a seven point system, or any other variation. Judge all grads by a consistent standard.

    Thank you for this invaluable discussion blog.

  34. [I accidently posted these originial remarks to your New Year’s greeting . I am now posting them under “grading scales”. Sorry for the “double dip” with these remarks! ]

    As a former Georgetown Admissions Officer (just saw Charlie in December!) I am well aware of the MANY factors that go into the admissions process. That said, you and I both know as professionals that weaker grades make for a weaker applicant.

    When a FCPS student gets a C+ for an 83 and but a candidate from an equally strong high school, like Arlington, gets a B for an 83, there is a competitive disadvantage for the FCPS student. Imagine a transcript full of potentially lower grades for the same level of achievement.

    I am sharing with you the top 9 facts pulled directly from the FCPS Research Report. There are many more research finding cited within the 120 page report. Regrettably, Jack Dale is disregarding the data imbedded in his own staff report and recommending that FCPS keep the existing 6/10 Hybrid Scale. FCPS parents have been battling this antiquated grading scale since 1978!

    I encourage you to LOOK at the GPA comparisons within the report. It does show that FCPS GPAs are depressed compared to comparable non-FCPS schools, but converting to the 10 Point scale along with a modest increase in weights for advanced courses would bring FCPS GPAs to the same level as these non-FCPS schools, but not to an inflated level.

    Here are the FACTS from the FCPS Report:
    1. High School Letter Grades are the most important factor in college admissions (National Association of College Admissions Counselors 2007, COLLEGE BOARD-Rigol 2003, FCPS 2008 College Survey)

    2. 55% of colleges surveyed by FCPS responded that they do NOT recalculate the GPA, so FCPS students are forced to compete with LOWER GRADES and LOWER GPAs for college admissions.

    3. 89% of colleges surveyed by FCPS responded that each individual applicant is compared against the ENTIRE applicant pool, and not simply their high school.

    4. 75 school districts in 12 different states examined this very issue and determined that ADOPTING the 10 Point Scale would BETTER serve their students and would remove any competitive disadvantage for their students’ applying to college. [Many Superintendents have spoken publicly of the need to remove this disadvantage, including Albemarle County, VA]

    5. The 10 Point Scale is the most common high school grading scale. (FCPS 2008 College Survey)

    6. FCPS’ unweighted A- GPAs are “depressed”, with 100-200% FEWER 2008 FCPS students earning this GPA than comparable non-FCPS students.

    7. Converting to the 10 Point Scale would bring these unweighted A- GPAs to the same level of comparable non-FCPS high schools, and NO GRADE INFLATION would occur.

    8. All of the above empirical evidence demonstrates that the current grading scale DOES create a disadvantage for FCPS students.

    9. There is NO empirical evidence that demonstrates that the current grading scale is BETTER for all FCPS students.
    I look forward to your observations…even if they are laced with sarcastic wit!

    Megan McLaughlin

  35. 1.) Their is even differences in grades between different class periods, same class, same teacher, way different grade distributions.

    2.) They don’t even show the letter grades on transcripts a B could be anywhere from 79.5-89.99 depending on the teacher. So if a class has 5 A’s and 15 B’s and 1 C and 1 E(F) the person with the highest B would only have 5 people above them but the lowest B would have 19 people above them a substantial difference.

    3.) A solution that would solve half the problems with different teachers is put final rank for each class took on the transcript then you would see that a student with a C was at the near bottom of their class versus a student with a C that had a very tough teacher. But it would be way to time consuming and confusing to look at a transcript that had all that info.

    PS:Is Arlington County one of those counties where you go “These GPA’s are way to high and inflated”

  36. In Virignia Beach a child with a 93 gets a 3.0. You cannot possibly tell me that child is not at a disadvantage when applying to college. If a child in Newport News has a 92 they get a 4.0. You really cannot expect me to believe the Newport News child does not have an advantage or the Virginia Beach child right off the bat.

    • I absolutely do not expect you to believe it – I would, however, suggest that the real question is whether the number of 4.0 and above is different in Virginia Beach or Newpost News – if the grade distributions are the same (assuming comparable children, who I assume, in our perpetual American state of Lake Wobegon, are all above average) than it is more likely that a 92 is a heck of a lot tougher to get in Newport News than it is in Virginia Beach. As I said before, I’m not saying this is the case, only that the assumption that grading scale changes the outcome is not a necessary assumption. Then, although I sincerely have no hope that you will believe this either, there is a great possiblity that most of the colleges that evaluate applicants, when grade distributions are abnormal (as appears more often the case from weighting grades than from grading scale changes), discount those abnormally high grade points – although less often with regards to scholarships. Fortunately, you have no need to believe anything I say – you are an American, and I firmly believe in your right to believe whatever it is you want. Cue appropriately patriotic tunes.

  37. So I guess you would be willing to have your college grades changed to support an 86 being a C and therefore not counting towards your major? I think not. Unless you were in that rare category of people that got straight A’s. Which considering your current profession is entirely possible. To claim that any University/College knows every city in the United States grading scale is laughable to me. Quite simply put, there is not enough time. The fact that you would infer that an A is easier to earn in Newport News than Virginia Beach is proof that that colleges don’t look at the city’s standards. I have talked to countless teachers that say they wish they could give a child an A on their report card for a 93, but that the antiquated system won’t allow it. On top of that, giving a child a D for a 77 from grade 3 on makes kids who are average feel like they are dummies or below average. Because that is what it says a D is (below average, not dummy obviously) Whereas alot of parents view their children as rocket scientists, most children are AVERAGE. However, if you tell someone they are below average long enough they believe it. Anyway I digress, per usual of my scattered mind…..If you are going to tell me that my daughter’s letter grades and GPA don’t affect her chance of getting into college, I am going to tell her to drop her IB course load and take up basketweaving. As you can see, I too, am fond of sarcastic humour. I am not worried about how unfair grading affects the super smart kids…I am more worried about the injustice it does to the slightly above average kids or even worse the average kids. If you graduate w/ a 1.0 (77 average) or a 2.0 (89 average)good luck getting into ANY reputable college. Why do we even use letter grades anyway? Why not just use grades of numerical value? I truly value your opinion on this subject. (no sarcasm I promise) Thanks for your input, you have been very gracious through all of the comments posted.

    • I agree with you I fall into that “average student”, because in many classes I average around 84; in North Carolina an 84 is a “C”. The grades should be of numerical value and not letter grades, because it shows everybofy on an equal level. My first thought was whatever the state the college is in, that college should use that grading scale for instance. If a student would like to go to a Georgia Tech, then Georgia Tech should use the state of Georgia’s grading scale. Also another idea would be for that college to use its own grading scale for determining the G.P.A.For instance, Georgia Tech should use Georgia Tech’s grading scale.

  38. The author says that many g.p.a would not change but many of my grades would. For instance, my last semester i received a 95; 81; 90; and 83. In north carolina those grades convert to A; C; B; and C( 2.75) but in for example Florida those grades would be A ;B ;A and B( 3.5) which to me is a major change.

    • Darius – that’s assuming you would have received the same numerical grades. Data suggests (SUGGESTS – this is SO not scientific) that teachers adjust their grading to the scale. In other words, if you an 81, a ‘C’ on your scale and the scale is adjusted so that an 81 is a ‘B’, it is possible (POSSIBLE) that you might have gotten a 75 instead and still had your ‘C’, as the number of A’s B’s and C’s tends to remain the same in the various grading scales. Mind you, that may not happen the year after an adjustment (lucky for those students in that year) but generally over time these things tend to level out, so that grading scale has far less impact that you’d think across schools. Weighting, on the other hand, has tremendous obvious impact, as a school that gives a half or a full point have changed their outcomes on GPA far more than a school with a different grading scale.

  39. Alright, I have a 4.0, all A’s at my school. It’s pretty traditional. But you said something about pluses and minuses changing calculating. Problem is, my school doesn’t report plus or minus, just letter. Would admissions officers still see that as a 4.0?

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