Sep 7, 2009

Labor Day Blues

Today is Labor Day. For a large group of area seniors, Labor Day represents the last full day of freedom before the traditional start of school takes over their lives. The Fairfax County Public School (FCPS) system has long resisted the pull of pre-Labor Day starts and remains steadfast in its support of local country clubs and the Kings Dominion Amusement Park by providing high school-aged employees unfettered by the demands of homework or other related school activities. Unless participating in fall sports, FCPS students may work until the last day of summer or until the pool closes for the season. It’s an interesting tradeoff for losing a couple of weeks of Advanced Placement (AP) preparation to the competition.

But this year’s FCPS seniors face an even more interesting wrinkle in their march to graduation and beyond. As upperclassmen, they will spearhead the transition to the new FCPS grading policy and will consequently be the first to deal with problems growing out of the long-awaited revision in the system-wide grading scale. Starting this year, students no longer have to achieve 94 or better to earn an A. In addition, the policy around weighting honors and AP classes has been revised to benefit FCPS students taking those classes. Both changes should help students in college and especially scholarship competitions for the coming year.

It all sounds great except the transcripts for the class of 2010 will show three year’s worth of grades under the old policy and weighting under the new policy. The GPA’s provided to colleges will be based on a hybrid of the more rigorous grading scale and the helpful weighting system. Next year, the class of 2011 will be even more confused as their grades will reflect a complicated mix of both policies. Presumably colleges will be able to sort all this out. But is it is very important that individual high school profiles are carefully crafted with clear explanations of what is going on so as to avoid confusion and show seniors in the best possible light. I strongly recommend that parents and PTSA organizations ask to see the revised school profiles that will be sent to colleges. Some will be glossy and detailed; others will be simple xeroxed sheets. You might also want to see copies of profiles from neighboring schools or competing schools to judge how yours compares. Or, take a look at what the University of Michigan and Northwestern University recommend. Remember, these documents are attached to every transcript mailed to every school to which a student applies. For FCPS students, some explanation of the transition to the new grading scale needs to be provided.

Hopefully, the class of 2010 is taking the day off and relaxing before buckling down to the demands of senior year classes, college applications, a few remaining standardized tests, and the delicate balancing act a social life imposes on all of the preceding. If you happen to be near your computer getting ready for the start of school, I have a small gift for you. Take a few minutes to watch Do or Die: The College Admissions Process. The language may be a little rough, but you should get a big laugh out of the absurdities of senior year.

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