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Weighted Grade Task Force

1.      To understand the state and national impact of weighted grading as both positive intrinsic and extrinsic reward for students.
2.      To understand the state and national impact of college admission (class ranking and GPA) by colleges, universities and scholarship foundations.

Scope of Work:

  • Serve as an advisory board to provide input and recommendations for the proposed changes to the Farmington Municipal Schools "District Grading System" Policy 3.30.1
  • Review and implement communication strategies to inform stakeholders of Task Force progress and actions
  • Review research, participate in discussions, and attend Task Force meetings to gain background and insight in a collaborative fashion that leads to consensus conclusion
  • Commit to attend a majority of the meetings

Task Force Meeting Dates  3:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. - Central Office Board Room

March 5, 2019
April 16, 2019
May 14, 2019

Our EAB research team investigated existing research on weighted grades on behalf of Farmington Schools but did not uncover any studies on weighted A+ grades. Existing research on weighted grades focuses on schools that assign weights to more difficult courses (e.g., AP courses). Our research team instead provided some research on the advantages and disadvantages of extrinsic and intrinsic rewards more generally, along with some context on how admissions officers view advanced courses and weighted GPAs. Our researchers will provide more in-depth information on how admissions officers interpret student transcripts by reaching out to college admissions officers on your behalf as a part of the long-term report you requested.
Extrinsic and Intrinsic Rewards
First, the resource Motivating Students from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching and Learning highlights the benefits and disadvantages of extrinsic (e.g., grades, earning potential, scholarships) and intrinsic (e.g., passion for the subject, a sense of accomplishment) motivators in learning. Research suggests that extrinsic motivation can change behavior more quickly, but that intrinsic motivation is more effective in the long-term. The authors highlight the following advantages and disadvantages of each motivation type:
  • Extrinsic Motivators
  • Advantages: Extrinsic motivators more readily produce behavior changes than intrinsic motivators, and typically involve relatively little effort or preparation.
  • Disadvantages: Extrinsic motivators can distract students from learning the subject at hand and typically do not work over the long term. Once the rewards or punishments are removed, students lose their motivation.
  • Intrinsic Motivators
  • Advantages: Intrinsic motivation can be long-lasting and self-sustaining, and efforts to build intrinsic motivation focus on the subject rather than on rewards or punishments.
  • Disadvantages: Efforts at fostering intrinsic motivation can be slow to affect behavior and require lengthy preparation (different students need different approaches).
Further, the article Tips for Rewarding Students for Good Performance from the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented identifies situations in which extrinsic motivators are useful in classroom instruction. The authors suggest that extrinsic rewards are useful to incentivize repetition, practice, or other specific behaviors tied to academic success, but should not be used as primary incentives for long-term goals. They also note that extrinsic rewards act as motivators only for those students who believe they have a chance to earn the reward and who value the reward. Thus, offering an increased weight for an A+ grade will incentivize your high-performing students, but will not serve as a motivator for other students at your school.
The research team was unable to find research on how weighting A+ grades specifically affects student motivation. That said, studies have shown that when administrators weight the overall grade scale of more difficult courses (e.g., honors courses, AP courses), students are more likely to take those courses.  A study of Texas high schools found that when schools introduced weights in AP courses for the first time, the probability of a student taking an AP course increased by three to 12 percent. The motivation provided by the weighted grade encourages students to take on the more difficult course. Similarly, it is likely that the motivation provided by an increased weight on an A+ encourages some students to strive for that grade.
Research suggests that advanced courses serve as both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators for students.Page 6 of the study Weighting for Recognition: Accounting for Advanced Placement and Honors Courses When Calculating High School Grade Point Average argues that students select advanced coursework (e.g., AP, IB, Honors) in high school because they believe these courses will better prepare them for college, result in increased learning, and lead to a greater probability of acceptance to college. In other words, students take these courses to increase their knowledge (intrinsic) and increase their likelihood of future success (extrinsic).
College Admissions
When it comes to how college admissions officers view advanced courses, the studyThe Role of Advanced Placement and Honors Courses in College Admissions notes that almost all surveyed selective colleges and universities give special consideration to AP and Honors courses in admissions decisions. Some institutions recalculate an applicant’s high school GPA to add additional bonus points for AP and Honors coursework, while other institutions do not recalculate GPA and instead accept each school or district’s policy on weighting AP and Honors courses. That said, the most widespread practice among admissions officers is to consider the number of AP, Honors, and IB courses as part of a comprehensive review of an applicant’s high school record. Admissions officers want to see that applicants take advantage of the most difficult curricular opportunities available to them.
As far as how college admissions officers view weighted GPAs, the Inside Higher Ed articleWhat If Weighted GPAs Are Meaningless? cites data from a 2017 survey of admissions officers to suggest that weighted GPAs do not affect college admissions. Responding college officials all reported that if a school were to remove weights from all student grades, it would make no difference in the likelihood that their students would be admitted. Many officers added that their admissions offices remove weighting before even considering an applicant’s grades. Thus, weighting an A+ at 4.3 rather than at 4.0 likely has little impact on a student’s chances of college admission in a vacuum. That said, unweighted A+ grades will no longer provide a benefit to a student’s class rank, which some institutions consider in the admissions process (see Weighting for Recognition, page 11).

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