At Oak Hills High, receiving an 'Academic O' is better than getting an 'A'

It's the top of an eight-point grading scale

GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Some students strive for straight A's, but in districts like Oak Hills, there's a bit of a different standard. With an eight-point weighted grading scale, an "Academic O" is a high mark of achievement at Oak Hills High School.

A weighted grading scale means that students can earn varying degrees of quality points for different levels of coursework. For Oak Hills students in Advanced Placement and other rigorous courses, an A is worth eight quality points. In non-honors courses, an A is worth six quality points.

"Students earn more quality points by taking more challenging courses," said Oak Hills High School Principal John Stoddard.

An Academic O -- which stands for Oak Hills -- is awarded to students who achieve a 6.0 or higher out of 8.0, which translates on a more traditional four-point scale to a 3.75 GPA.

The designation is awarded to 10th- through 12th-graders based on their average GPA from the previous school year. To ensure the opportunity is available for graduating seniors, the designation for students' final school year is based on the first three quarters of the year.

Oak Hills Local School District officials are in the process of trying to convert back to a four-point system, but for now, they're continuing to use the eight-point system. The West Side district recently recognized 435 students who earned an Academic O for the 2015-16 school year.

Despite the seemingly high number, those receiving the designation make up less than 20 percent of the school's 2,600-student population, Stoddard said.

"That's still only somewhere in the neighborhood of maybe almost 16 percent of our school population," he said.

Most colleges and many primary and secondary schools use a traditional four-point grading scale, but it's not uncommon for school districts to have some kind of in-house grading system.

"I don't know of any others that have eight-point, like we do, but every district has some type of a weighting system," Stoddard said.

In most districts that implement non-traditional grading scales, weighted GPAs typically range between four and five points, he said.

While there has been some movement in recent years away from an emphasis on GPA as the sole measure of learning, there are some benefits to weighted grading systems.

"I would say that the advantages are that it's kind of rewarding kids that are taking more rigorous course work," said Oak Hills High School Assistant Principal Kristi Bashara.

"At the same time, we might have students who work very hard, who … might not reach that level because of the lower-level classes they're taking," she added.

The district does make an effort to "level the playing field" in other ways, she said. Rather than recognizing a valedictorian or a salutatorian, the top 10 percent of students in a graduating class receive recognition. Any of those students in that 10 percent can audition to give a speech at graduation. The class president also is given the opportunity to speak at the ceremony.

"We're proud of the things that our kids do here, and we love to give them recognition whenever we can, and I think the more we can do in that vein, the more positive we can put out, the more positive they'll work to achieve," Stoddard said.

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