Beginning next school year, students will receive a withdrawal, or ‘W’ on their transcript no matter when they drop a course.
Currently, a ‘W’ would only appear if a course was dropped after two weeks into the first quarter. The timing was recently changed to appear from the first day of school.
The “W-Rule” only applies to course changes and not level changes, said vice principal Amy Winston.
According to principal Henry Turner, changing the timing of when a ‘W’ appears was simply an update to an “outdated policy” to reflect changes to the registration process.
Turner explained that the flexibility of the previous registration process had made staffing and scheduling very difficult for the administration.
“A long time ago, students were able to drop classes during the fall,” he said. “Doing that was really detrimental to class size and it actually limited the number of classes we were able to offer.”
The school creates its staffing based on the courses that students sign up for, so if students change their minds in the fall, it creates problems with class sizes and schedules.
A ‘W’ on a transcript is not meant to be a punishment, and there is no evidence that it negatively affects college admissions, added Turner.
Senior Lucy Zheng, who received a ‘W’ last fall for switching English courses, echoed Turner’s sentiments.
Zheng said, “In the context of sending transcripts to colleges and having them see ‘W’s and stuff like that, I don’t think it has a particularly negative or positive effect on one’s admissibility if you’re applying to schools like UChicago, UPenn, Yale, and other schools that advertise themselves as holistic schools, because they take into account your individual circumstances and, in my case, the fact that I dropped from an English class to take on another.”
Although a ‘W’ is not meant to be a punishment, that has not been clear to both students and teachers, for which this rule has caused confusion and worry.
Zheng, despite recognizing that a ‘W’ doesn’t have a major effect said, “For a school that says it tries to do its best to advocate for students this is definitely a step in the opposite direction — they’re making students more worried and it’s quite unclear what the goal of having Ws is to begin with.”
For junior Cate Liu, it’s unclear what the impacts of having a ‘W’ is. She was told by teachers that a ‘W’ is a “horrible thing to have on your transcript,” while her guidance counselor told her it wasn’t a bad thing.
“A lot of my teachers had been bringing up the “W-Rule” when they talked about AP classes. They would stress that we shouldn’t overload on APs and have a balanced course load, then bring up the fact that if we dropped any classes, we’d get a ‘W’ on our transcript. That’s actually how I first found out the rule existed,” she said.
Liu understands the reason for having the rule, but feels that the “W-Rule” is unsupportive of the student registration process.
She said, “I feel like this rule just punishes kids for wanting to seek out a class that’s the right level for them,” she said. “I get that the administration is doing it to prevent a ton of schedule changes from happening, but I don’t think having a mark put on a student’s transcript is the right way to do it.”
The policy was updated Jan. 16 by the Academic Standards Committee, a committee of teachers, administrators, and parents.
Update: 3/29/17, 2:15
Turner responded to the suggestion that teachers are using the “W-Rule” to prevent students from taking too many APs.
“I don’t think that the teacher probably should have done that,” he said, “because [the ‘W’] is not a deterrent. That’s really just meant as information.”
He said that he agreed that students shouldn’t overload on APs.
“Helping students to make good decisions and maintain a balance, that’s something we do want to advocate for, but I’m not sure a ‘W’ is the reason to deter them,” he added.
According to Beth Swederskas, counseling department chair, the update was to decrease the number of classes that students request to drop in the fall.
“This will hopefully discourage students from over-enrolling themselves in the spring, which negatively impacts staffing, scheduling, and student mental health,” she said.
No W will be given for classes changed in Arena Scheduling due to errors, omissions or resolution of conflicts, she added.