For years, parents have urged Essex High School to change how it converts its grading scale over concerns that it disadvantages students who apply for college or scholarships.
Their advocacy even led to a pair of petitions earlier this year that garnered hundreds of signatures. And now, it appears EHS leadership has listened.
Last week, principal Rob Reardon outlined a new grading scale conversion system that he says better aligns EHS with other Chittenden County schools. For example, instead of receiving a 2.4 GPA for an 85 average, EHS students with that same grade will now earn a 3.0 — like what they’d get at CVU.
The new scale also operates off a passing grade of 60, which is 10 points lower than now.
Reardon outlined the changes during the May 1 school board meeting and said the new scale will officially roll out at the start of next school year. Parents at the meeting expressed gratitude at the decision.
“I just want to thank Mr. Reardon for being so responsive and actually listening to us,” said Erynne Ross, who started the parent petition. “What you captured with the new GPA scale is exactly what people were looking for.”
Reardon explained the current system has been in place for many years and previously matched up with most other schools. But those schools have since modified their scales while EHS has maintained its system based on a prevailing theme that “we would be lowering our standards,” he said.
“I will be the first to admit that what is proposed is certainly not unanimous at the school,” Reardon said, “but I think we’ve made some good strides.”
Back in February, Reardon said the petitions came at a useful time given the requirement for Vermont schools to move to a proficiency-based system by 2020. That transition is about two years from completion and will include a discussion on whether to keep the traditional 100-scale or shift to a new system altogether, perhaps a 1 to 4 scale or a letter-based one, Reardon said at the time.
He said these new changes are the result of conversations with faculty, staff and parents. One of those parents was Matt Bryne, who met with Reardon to advocate for the change earlier this year.
Bryne said EHS has been inadvertently telling outside institutions that its students are worse off than others under the current system. He acknowledged the fear of lowering standards, but said he believes there’s a difference between that and communicating success.
“The message we should be sending is that the Essex students are as good or better than the students in the local area,” he said.
Bryne also urged EHS to retroactively update students’ grades under the new system, fearing grades under the old system could unintentionally weigh down the average on a student’s school record.
Other parents at the meeting agreed, like Darcy Broulette, who said she’d like to see her 11th-grade daughter send out applications that include three years of grades under the new system to keep consistency.
Board member Kim Gleason questioned why the change wouldn’t take effect until next year, noting students who apply to college early would only have a transcript through the end of their junior year. She said she didn’t want to see another class of students apply to college without the advantage of the new system.
“It doesn’t strike me as it’s compromising the integrity of the grade that the teacher gave, nor is it lowering the standards or any other suggestions,” she said. “It looks to me like straight up math.”
There’s no clear agreement on how impactful the GPA conversion system really is to colleges. Some admissions counselors say they review applications within a school system’s context, which is apparent through the school profile submitted for each student.
But parents report some schools around the country tell them they take the grade straight from the transcript without converting it through the school profile. And with more students applying to college than ever before, evaluators have less time to spend on individual applications.
In most cases, the new EHS conversion system will mean grades on the 100-scale will earn students a higher GPA. For some, supporters of the change say, that could mean a better chance at getting into highly competitive colleges and earning scholarships.
But the changes will also impact students who hover on the lower rungs of the scale, said Robin Rhodes Astor, a parent and St. Michael’s College admissions counselor who’s long advocated for the change.
“I’m curious about what we’re going to do about kids who have a 61 to 69,” she said. “Now they technically haven’t failed a class, but according to the old grading scale, they had.”
Reardon said he wants to think through the consequences — “both intended and unintended” — if the high school retroactively changed grades. He said he would get back to Gleason in the next few weeks.
Board chairwoman Martha Heath suggested Reardon reach out to other schools and see how they handled their own transitions.
“As a former teacher, I don’t see it as a straight mathematical exercise,” she said. “People may not like to hear that, but I don’t.”