Cooper proposes elimination of Valedictorian, change to GPA calculations

Henri Robbins | Staff Writer

Superintendent Jonathan Cooper and fellow administration have altered the calculations of Grade Point Average (GPA), which he announced at the recent Community Conversation to the public.

While students are focused on their grades, the school is focusing on the classes they take to get them. 

In the most recent Community Conversation on April 2, 2019, Superintendent Jonathan Cooper announced his proposed changes to how Grade Point Average (GPA) is calculated in Mason Schools along with eliminating the valedictorian and salutatorian titles. During the meeting, he responded to concerns within the community in regards to these changes which are intended to address the competitive atmosphere that he said is present in Mason in an attempt to increase the overall mental health of students. 

“We’re looking at whether we’re calculating  GPAs in a way that is actually best practice, and whether we should look at rethinking our calculation for GPAs in a way that is more accurate,” Cooper said. “The way we’re doing it now is creating a chase for the top GPA way out there, and if we go to the five-point system, we think that will begin to slow down the big chase for a 6.0 or 7.0, which is literally starting in fifth and sixth grade.” 

This change to GPA, alongside the proposal of eliminating class titles, are in conjunction with the changes to start times and bell scheduling, which will be put into place next year. In the meeting, the impact of the current GPA and ranking systems, along with the competitive atmosphere that Cooper said it creates, were discussed by administration and attendees. 

With the proposal, GPA would be limited to a 5.0 cap, removing the 0.06  boost per one AP or Honors course credit. AP courses would be on a 5.0 scale, while honors courses would be on a 4.5, and all others would be on a 4.0. The change to class titles means that GPAs are now part of a laude system, where students with a 4.0 or above would receive Summa Cum Laude, while 3.75 to 3.99 would receive Magna Cum Laude, and 3.51 to 3.74 would receive Cum Laude. 

When he began working with the high school more closely, Cooper noticed inconsistencies with the GPA scaling. There were commonly GPAs in the 6.0 range and above, something which he said was greatly inflated. Around that time, Mason also began to receive letters from schools such as Vanderbilt which were questioning their grading scale.

“Currently, the distribution suggests that students with a 4.5 GPA or higher are within the top 26 percent at Mason,” one letter from Vanderbilt said. “I think they are much higher in the class.” 

While such GPAs can make college admissions more difficult, Cooper said they also lead to students simply taking classes because of the GPA boost rather than genuine interest. 

“We want kids taking courses that help them follow their passion and that help them on their journey to what they want to do, not because they feel like they have to or because they’re falling behind,” Cooper said.

In the face of these issues, Education Board president Matt Steele addressed the hardships that he sees students face and his belief that, although they are still proposals, the changes that Cooper is offering could eliminate them. 

“Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that all of our kids are great,” Steel said. “If we take the high school and take academic prowess of all of our students and stack it up against any student, we’re going to compete pretty well. But are we creating competition amongst our students that is unfair to them? Are we creating opportunities where kids feel like they’re successful and growing, that takes advantage of our size, are we doing that well enough?”

Cooper not only hopes that students will focus on courses which they are more interested in taking, but that they also will begin focusing on more extracurricular activities and engaging with the community. 

“We’re hearing from colleges that they’re not just looking at GPA or course selection,” Cooper said. “They’re looking at what other things they’re doing, and how they’re giving back the community. They’re looking at the whole person more now than they ever have before.”

When attending the conversation, Junior Shriya Penmetsa said that she was initially wary of the change, but after hearing the reasoning behind it, she sees how students focusing entirely on boosting their GPA can be damaging, and hopes that students are open to accepting the changes. 

“Students are always asking for change, but the moment you introduce it, people are against it,” Penmetsa said. “I don’t think people understand that the school isn’t doing this to penalize us at all. They want to help us, and with any change I think kids are going to be negative about it, but as it falls into play it will make more sense to them, and eventually it will come around to where kids like it.”

Cooper hopes that students will be more inclined to take classes without considering grades, and instead taking courses which interest them and are relevant to their future. 

“We want your journey to be your journey,” Cooper said. “What I’m trying to do is transform our approach to learning at Mason schools and influence others to do the same, because personalized learning would allow you as a student, with the teacher, to begin co-creating your journey or your pathway, so it’s a pathway you really want to be on and not one that you feel pressured to be on.”

Photos by Henri Robbins.