Ashland High School students fishing for merit scholarships will have one less obstacle to clear thanks to a clerical tweak that will provide seniors with an additional transcript that’s weighted to reflect advanced placement course work.

The change, considered by Principal Erika Bare and her advisory committee in November, went into effect during the school’s second semester and may have already helped some students land scholarships previously unattainable at colleges and universities that don’t distinguish between weighted and unweighted GPAs, such as the University of Oregon.

Though the school still employs an unweighted grading system for internal functions such as class ranking and valedictorian selection, starting this year incoming seniors will be provided with two GPAs, one weighted and one not. Also, students who are scheduled to graduate this June may acquire their weighted GPA by requesting it from the school.

Bare said Thursday that the weighted-versus-unweighted debate has been a topic of conversation at AHS for years, and was decided only after careful consideration.

“We reviewed a significant amount of research, took a look at what universities and colleges did look at when considering students for admittance or for a scholarship,” she said. “And what we found is that the majority of colleges and universities take into consideration whether or not a high school student is bringing in a weighted or unweighted GPA when making their decision. So in other words, they are comparing apples to apples. … It doesn’t put either student at a disadvantage because they are considering that as part of their decision-making process. There are a couple exceptions to that, with U of O scholarships being a significant one for us because it does have a significant impact for several of our students every year.”

A high-school student’s GPA is calculated by adding together the total number of points they received and dividing that number by the total number of classes they took. In an unweighted system, students receive a fixed number of points for each grade — four points for an “A,” three for a “B” and so on — regardless of each class’s difficulty level. A weighted system awards more points for advanced placement courses.

Most colleges and universities distinguish between the two, but since one of the state’s major universities — the University of Oregon — doesn’t, Ashland High students applying there for merit scholarships have historically been fighting an uphill battle, like a basketball team starting a game 15 points behind. Making the case for a dual transcript more compelling, Bare noted, is the fact that Oregon State University may also soon be choosing not to distinguish between weighted and unweighted GPAs.

As Ashland School Board Director Deneice Covert Zeve said during the Feb. 8 school board meeting, “There are certain thresholds for GPA that you have to reach to get scholarships at some schools and admittance, and some universities will make it equal across all schools and some won’t. And so we were missing out on the ones that wouldn’t make it equal.”

“It impacted a very few number of students,” Bare said, “but the impact it was having was significant.”

Why didn’t Ashland High switch to a weighted grade system for internal functions as well? The advisory board considered that, but ultimately determined that a move in that direction could lead to a dramatic shift in the way students decide which classes to take and which to avoid.

Adding more weight to advanced placement classes, in other words, would strongly encourage more ambitious students to take on an AP-heavy course load in an attempt to improve their class ranking and increase their chances at earning valedictorian honors. Consequently, students would have less incentive to take classes that may not have as dramatic an impact on their GPA — courses, Bare explains, that reflect a more balanced education.

“It was important to us that students continued to have a diverse schedule,” she said. “We want them to take challenging courses, the courses that make the most sense for them. But we also want to make sure that they’re continuing to take art classes and drama classes and to have a really well-rounded schedule, and there was some concern that if we went to a fully weighted system students would start loading up on AP classes at the expense of a well-rounded schedule.”

Speaking to Bare and the rest of the board during its Feb. 8 meeting, Chairman Jim Westrick said the move is already having an impact.

“I heard from one parent that it made an immediate difference to the tune of about seven to eight thousand dollars,” Westrick said. “We’re seeing that that one clerical change on the transcript is translating into a whole lot of dollars for kids, and that’s really great to see.”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.