We sincerely believe that KO is a great school: one that strives to help students learn and succeed. Teachers and administrators certainly have students’ interests at heart when they make decisions. However, no individual or institution is perfect, and we don’t believe KO claims to be. As such, in this article, we would like to lay out a few issues we see in KO’s education system in the hopes that — in the future — they might be rectified.
The first is that KO’s ranking and grade-weighting system is unfair and hypocritical. On one hand, KO doesn’t rank its students. But on the other, the school awards one person from each class the Dux prize— awarded to that student with the highest academic average every year. Instead of this equivocation, we believe that KO should either rank students and allow us to access this information or not rank students at all.
The current Dux prize system is harmful for several reasons. First, it does not bestow any prestige or validation on high-achieving students who aren’t “number one.” Insofar as the Dux prize is KO’s most prestigious honor, it seems unreasonable that that honor should go to only person. Often times, the first ranked and second ranked student are separated by only a few decimal points. In the current system, the first ranked student gets all the prestige and can tell colleges that he or she is “number one.” But the second or third or fourth ranked student gets none of these benefits. They don’t even know their rank.
Second, the way in which KO determines Dux prize rankings is inequitable. In the student handbook, it states that KO only weights grades for Dux prize consideration. However, the handbook does not specify the way in which grades are weighted. This lack of transparency is problematic.
As it turns out, KO weights honors and AP classes by multiplying a each grade in an honors or AP class by 1.1. We believe that AP and honors classes should indeed by weighted higher than non-honors class. We don’t have a problem with that.
What we do have a problem with is that AP classes and honors classes are weighted the same; they are conflated. This way of weighting AP and honors grades rests on the incredibly false assumption that AP classes and honors classes are equally challenging. They aren’t. This grade conflation is harmful for two reasons. First, it disincentivizes students from taking more challenging classes. Since the Dux prize is KO’s most august award, it is logical that many students are “gunning for it,” so to speak. To these students: why take AP Chemistry when honors chemistry is weighted the same and probably easier to get an A in? Second, this conflation is just plain unfair. Technically, an A in honors geometry is weighted more heavily than an A- in BC Calculus. The difference in grade is incommensurate to the disparity in class difficulty.
Unequitable grade weighting also renders Honor Roll determinations unfair. As mentioned, KO only weights grades when “ranking” students for the Dux prize.
It does not weight grades for Honor Roll consideration. Why this inconsistency? Similar to previous examples, a student taking five non-honors classes has a higher chance of making honor roll than a student taking four AP classes. Thus, students have an incentive to take the easiest classes because often times, parents view “making honor roll” as a marker of academic achievement. Overall, students preferring an “easy A” to taking a difficult but interesting class is really harmful because it prioritizes grades over learning and establishes structural impediments that prevent or disincentive students from “pursuing their passions” — something we’re told to do all too often.
To solve the issues that come with inconsistent and unfair student rankings and grade weighting, we suggest the following: either tell every student their class rank or have none at all.
If the Dux prize must stay — because of KO tradition, or whatever — grades should be weighted more fairly. That is, AP and honors classes should hold more weight than non-honors classes but AP classes should also hold more weight than honors classes. The exact decimal difference is unimportant.
We are concerned about the principle here. Further, for honor roll, grades should be weighted in the same manner as for Dux prize consideration.
In a similar vein, we think that KO should record and publish grade point averages (GPAs). The main argument against this proposition is that students will become competitive with each other and be constantly concerned about their grades above all else.
However, this argument is nonsensical because students can easily calculate their own GPAs, ushering in the same concerns about competitiveness. Indeed, the student handbook — which I’m sure we all have read — explicitly states the conversation between letter grades and 4.0 scale.
We think that school-sanctioned GPAs would do nothing to increase this competitive atmosphere and would merely serve to increase transparency. Even though KO currently doesn’t calculate GPAs, this number has a profound impact on every student’s life. It determines their place on the honor roll or if they’ve won the Dux prize. It also probably has a large bearing on Prize Assembly awards — though we can’t confirm this for certain.