Districts take different approaches to considering students' GPA during pandemic

With so many students struggling to navigate or have access to distance learning, school districts are taking different approaches to how students’ grades will count towards their GPA while colleges and universities consider how the pandemic will impact applications. 

Some schools, like Heritage Christian Academy in Maple Grove, are moving forward with grading like normal. Students will be graded on their course work during distance learning and those grades will impact their overall grade point average. 

That’s good news for students like junior at Heritage Anika Millar who says she’s had success adjusting to distance learning. She says she pays close attention to her GPA because she needs a good average to get scholarships. 

“For me, GPA matters because that’s what kind of puts me out there for colleges to see ‘oh you’re smart you know your stuff so we’re going to give you a scholarship for it,’” Millar said. 

Other school districts are taking a different approach. Some districts, like Anoka-Hennepin, are keeping this year’s final trimester grades out of a student’s cumulative GPA “reducing the negative impact on students who didn’t have the resources to meet the demands of distance learning.”

Osseo Area Schools is letting students decide if grades earned during distance learning will go towards their overall GPA. 

“We believe it’s just the perfect blend of trying to meet the diverse needs of students and families in Osseo Area Schools,” Director of the Department of Learning and Achievement for Osseo Area Schools Jeremy Willey said. 

Willey says at first they put a policy into place to have grades from this year’s final trimester be taken out of a student’s overall GPA, but after hearing from some families they decided to change the policy to offer the choice. 

“We really wanted to make sure we were holding harmless our students who are facing significant distance learning-related obstacles that were beyond their control during the governor’s stay at home orders,” Willey said. 

He says they wanted to consider students who are struggling while also allowing students who are finding success to have their hard work count towards a high GPA. 

This patchwork of policies is something colleges and universities will have to consider while looking at incoming college applications. Marvin D. Dunnette Distinguished Professor for the University of Minnesota, Nathan Kuncel researches and consults on admission processes. He says these changes will erode how useful high school grades are for making admission decisions.

“High school grades still certainly still have some utility and the combination of tests and letter and grades all continue to be part of the picture but it is possible that this upcoming cycle they’ll be given quite a bit less weight because there’s all this noise in the system,” Kuncel said. 

He says there is no uniform policy for admissions at higher education institutes so each institute will have to come up with their own system to weigh grades earned during the pandemic. He says the good news is that all students are on a similar playing field especially when it comes to voids in their applications where extracurricular activities would be considered.