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Laguna Beach school board stands by 2016 policy on ‘weighted’ classes, despite calls to restore GPA ‘bumps’ it removed

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Members of the Laguna Beach Unified School District board of trustees listen Tuesday to a presentation by district staff.
(Photo by Lilly Nguyen)

Much to the chagrin of a crowd of current and future Laguna Beach High School parents Tuesday, the Laguna Beach Unified School District board of trustees made clear its stance on “bumping” student grade-point averages.

Though there was no vote on the matter, trustees indicated they have no plans to change a policy adopted three years ago that eliminated honors course grade “weighting” that did not directly align with standards of the University of California system. A motion by trustee Dee Perry to schedule the issue as an action item at a later board meeting failed.

For the record:
4:35 PM, May. 30, 2019 This article originally quoted Doug Nottage as saying “It’s not an urgent request.” He actually said “It’s not a budget request.”

The weighting of classes refers to the additional grade-point credit that students taking honors and Advanced Placement classes can receive, allowing for grade-point averages to go over 4.0.

The board first installed the policy in February 2016, when it included current members Perry, Carol Normandin and Jan Vickers.

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Parents have argued that the policy would hinder students’ ability to be admitted to or get merit scholarships to colleges that use higher GPAs and would reduce students’ motivation to take more-difficult classes.

Vickers said at Tuesday’s meeting that the 2016 decision came in response to concerns that Laguna Beach High School was “grade-inflated,” meaning that students’ GPAs might be considered higher than they should be because of more weight given to honors and advanced classes.

“That doesn’t go well with [college] admission officers when you earn that reputation,” Vickers said. “There was concern of making it more genuine, and that was part of that discussion.”

Vickers referred to Laguna Beach High’s school profile, a report that includes information about the school, its curriculum and socioeconomic factors in the community it serves. It also includes information on grade and ranking procedures, test scores and college admission distributions.

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“The profile was the focus point and the fact that our profile needed to reflect the rigor that we offer the students,” Vickers said. “In fact, we had a task force on academic rigor and it was to bump that up. Not anything to do with weighted grades or grade bumps; just the fact that we needed to have more rigorous course offerings at the high school and … we have, I think, accomplished that to a degree.”

Currently, the school offers 29 honors and/or Advanced Placement courses that are weighted. It also has four unweighted classes that include Honors English 9, Honors Spanish II, Honors Spanish III and Honors Spanish IV.

Parents raised concerns about the grade bump policy at the board’s April 23 meeting. Tuesday’s discussion focused on an informational presentation by district staff addressing questions from board members following the April meeting.

An online petition circulated by parents is “seeking to have the school board retroactively reinstate the honors course grade bump policy for all honors-level courses at LBHS.” The petition had collected 458 signatures as of Thursday morning.

Public comment on the topic Tuesday was overwhelmingly in favor of retroactively restoring the grade bump. Several parents questioned why the district opted to align with the UC system when not all students would be applying to or attending UC campuses after high school.

“When you’re doing the research and presenting things, you should go and talk to the colleges that are not unweighting the GPAs,” said Monica Golden, a parent of four children in the Laguna Beach district. “Why is University of Oregon [and University of Colorado] Boulder not in this presentation? Because there would be a quote saying, ‘We do not unweight them.’ But we’re only seeing the ones that say what you want us to hear.”

“Weighting all honors courses may impact a small number of students, but the impact it has is significant,” added Golden, an alumna of Laguna Beach High School. “By decreasing our students’ GPAs, students are put at a disadvantage for admittance into college and scholarships at universities that don’t distinguish between weighted and unweighted.”

Doug Nottage, a parent of two children in the district, questioned why the board wasn’t acting on the requests of students to reinstate the grade bump.

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“This costs us nothing. It’s not a budget request. It’s not a lawsuit; it’s nothing of difficulty to this board,” Nottage said. “It’s something that these children are asking for and there really isn’t any reason not to.”

Nottage added that he didn’t see anything in the staff presentation to suggest there would be any penalties by the UC system for allowing the grade bump.

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