Should earning an A in Physical Education be equivalent to earning an A in AP Calculus?

By Andrea Staples

     Oyster River High School is currently a heterogeneous school which means that AP and advanced courses are not weighted and that all courses are viewed as equal when determining a student’s GPA. This is due to the school embracing that all students have their own challenges however some students who take advanced courses feel as though this is unfair when determining class rank and college admittance. Although many different opinions have been formed on the matter, what is most important is knowing all of the facts.

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How does ORHS currently determine class rank?

     As senior year approaches, students begin to worry about what colleges will see on their transcript and how it will affect them. One aspect that students worry about is class rank and whether or not it is vital to their college admittance. Mark McCann, Dean of Students at ORHS states, “When you get into the top ten it gets a little sticky. It’s [class rank] not a simple answer because everybody’s challenge is a little different.”

    ORHS currently only releases the top ten in the senior class; this is because in the past they acknowledged the inequity of not weighting courses and did not want a student not making the top ten to negatively affect college applications. Releasing the top ten is also necessary to determine valedictorian, scholarships, and other titles. There is one main question  many students continually ask, which is ‘Why doesn’t ORHS just weight advanced course?’  Kim Sekera, guidance counselor states “Our school really embraces heterogeneity, the way our school is set up it’s counter to weighted grades because we value the importance of everything.”

     The highest GPA (Grade Point Average) a student could achieve at ORHS is a 4.33. Currently if one student were to receive a 4.2 GPA taking no AP courses, meanwhile another student were to receive a 4.1 GPA while taking multiple AP courses, the student who took no AP courses would be chosen as first in the class for having a higher GPA. If an AP Course were to be weighted, then the GPA the student received for the course would be raised to a certain extent due to the rigor of the course, therefore ‘balancing’ with non-AP courses.

Are AP Courses worth it if they aren’t weighted?

     Everybody has their own challenges, but does that mean if you don’t take on rigor in high school that you’re going nowhere in life? Sekera thinks otherwise “My husband did not do good [well] in high school and he now has a PhD and is a professor. Our former superintendent dropped out of school and got his G.E.D. and a Doctorate.” However, if a student is intending on going to college many expect students to challenge themselves in high school. “We value the students that are working super hard to take difficult courses and put in the time and effort to get good grades in them; it’s very challenging to do so especially in AP courses,” states McCann. However, how much a student can handle at ORHS is often overestimated.

     Sekera states that many students can take on too much rigor at ORHS and end up being miserable. AP courses are not guaranteed to give you a college credit or guarantee your acceptance into your dream school. Whether or not a college will give a student credit for taking an AP course in high school depends on if the college is a higher tier school. “If you were to go into nursing they probably wouldn’t care that you took the Anatomy and Physiology here even if you got the college credit because they want you to take theirs and for nursing the Anatomy and Physiology that they require is so specific that they wouldn’t grant you the college credit,” states Sekera.

     Sekera further noted that ORHS is a very competitive school and that taking AP courses will help you regardless if you get the college credit due to the exposure to the course. Ella Cedarholm (‘15), alumni of ORHS, encourages that if you are planning on using the AP Courses that you had taken in high school as college credits, to be sure to make sure it fits the requirement of your major. One of the AP courses Cedarholm took at ORHS was AP Physics, which is algebra based at ORHS. Meanwhile, her intended major which may be an Engineer (Cedarholm is undeclared) requires her to take a Calculus based Physics, therefore she had to take physics again.  “It’s been nice not having to work as hard in it since I’ve already seen all of the content, and I didn’t feel as screwed over when I got a bad professor for it, but the two courses [AP Physics at ORHS versus Physics at UNH) are so unnoticeably different,” says Cedarholm.

Is being a heterogeneous school unfair to students who take AP  or Advanced courses?

     Some students who have taken AP courses disagree with the method class rank is determined at ORHS. Bella Saputo (‘16) took one AP course her junior year, and is currently taking three other AP courses “I think that our unweighted system was created with good intentions as it is designed to treat each subject equally without putting more value on one over the other. However, the fact of the matter is that some classes are just harder than other classes and this does not make them any less valuable or necessary to a student’s education.”

     Colleen Todd (‘16) who is also in multiple AP courses supports ORHS being a heterogeneous school. “When you sign up for a course load that is rigorous, you are accepting the possibility of your GPA being lower than it would be in an average class that isn’t advanced or at an AP level. If the classes were weighted then students that could not manage in accelerated classes would put themselves there and not truly learn the subject because they would get poor grades but due to the system have a high GPA,” states Todd. As stated before, ORHS embraces equality among courses for students.

Does class rank affect college admittance?

     According to an article on Grades, GPA, and Class Rank if a student were to avoid taking AP and Advanced Courses throughout high school that no amount of A’s will impress a competitive college. ORHS is very diligent with presenting colleges with a school profile explaining the unweighted system that is used; schools are aware and will take that into consideration when acknowledging a student’s GPA. “Some students will not take a hard course because they’re worried about their GPA, but with that explanation if they see that you’re not taking hard courses and you have a great GPA they’re gonna say that this student doesn’t have exposure to challenging courses,” states Sekera. Theoretically, according to college admissions, the quality of a student’s courses overrides a student’s gpa or class rank; however every quality is still taken into consideration. McCann also stated that colleges will pay extra attention to a student’s GPA at ORHS based on the school not weighting advanced courses.

     Despite ORHS being a heterogeneous school, McCann also states that students continually achieve success after leaving ORHS and that “in the end, when colleges look at courses and look at your transcript they’ll see that you’re taking a challenging course and challenging yourself and even if you get a C in an AP course or any other high level course that may not be an AP course, if they see that you’re taking a very rigorous schedule it’s going to work to your advantage.”