A Way for High-School Students to Boost Their GPAs: Take Classes at Other High Schools
Alternative schools appeal to students who want to fix a poor grade at school or polish their transcripts with AP or Honors courses
By Jennifer Levitz and Melissa Korn
Wall Street Journal
June 18, 2019 5:30 a.m. ET

The pitch to high-school students and their parents is simple: Take that tough class at an online or alternative school, while remaining enrolled full-time elsewhere, and boost your grade-point average.

Such schools are finding a lucrative niche, appealing to students who want to fix a poor grade at school or polish their transcripts with Advanced Placement or Honors courses. Regular schools often give full credit for the outside work and include it when calculating GPAs.

The catch is that alternative schools that mainly offer one-on-one instruction or online classes—over the summer and during the school year—aren’t always as rigorous as a regular school classroom, and some give undeserving students inflated grades, say some educators, school administrators and former regulators.

“You’re getting the same credit and the same honors on your transcript as someone at a traditional school, but I don’t think the rigor is sometimes there,” said Michael McCoy, a former school superintendent who served from 2011 to 2017 as a commissioner for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the region’s accrediting agency.

Alternative schools were a strategy recommended by William “Rick” Singer, who ran the nationwide college-admissions cheating scheme. Mr. Singer has pleaded guilty to four charges in connection to the case, including racketeering conspiracy and fraud. He encouraged clients to use the schools to bolster their children’s academic transcripts. In some instances, he told parents one of his employees could take online classes in place of the child, according to a government affidavit filed in the case.


There are, of course, legitimate online classes. Grade inflation, in both high school and college, is a general problem, and I have long thought that transcripts should show the average grade earned in the class in addition to the grade earned by the student. A growing number of colleges do not require the SAT or ACT for admission, but standardized (honest!) test scores are a useful complement to GPAs, which are subject to the vagaries of teachers and schools.