Mackenzie Grace has been a straight-A student all four of her years of high school at the Out-of-Door Academy in Lakewood Ranch.
But was it good enough?
Grace had a goal of being the school's valedictorian when she walked in ODA's graduation ceremony, and she knows well that 4.0, once the gold standard for straight A students, is no longer the perfect score.
With advanced placement classes and complicated academic scoring systems, the highest possible score has become a fuzzy area.
Eventually, Grace learned her 4.41-grade point average got the job done. But students in all three East County High Schools know that being a 4.0 student, whether that means for school honors or for attracting interest at the top universities, is no longer the promised land.
Lakewood Ranch High Principal Craig Little was asked if a 4.0 average guarantees a student a great shot at getting in his or her desired university.
"It's complicated," Little said. "We have weighted courses and advanced study courses."
Little explained that getting a "B" in an advanced placement class might translate to an "A" when calculating grade point average.
He also said some districts have different methods of scoring classes and calculating GPAs.
So where does a 4.0 GPA rank these days?
"It's still pretty darned good," Little said.
Is there a top GPA, such as 4.7 or 5.0? Little said he didn't know since different schools score differently.
Students do understand, though, they need to take advanced placement classes to pump up their GPA, even if they always have been a straight "A" student. Advanced placement classes often are scored on a 5.0 scale instead of a 4.0 scale.
L’Tanya Evans, the associate dean of academics at ODA, said students must shoot higher to meet the competition in terms of college recruiting.
“In many ways, the traditional college preparatory approach that includes students enrolling in courses for multiple years in math, English, science, world language, and history has been modified by the increasing competition for acceptance into the top schools in the nation,” Evans said. “This includes expectations that students work diligently to exhaust their respective high school’s curriculum in all areas, which means taking honors and advanced placement courses.”
Grace did everything she could, taking three advanced placement courses her senior year and four as a junior.
At Braden River, senior Destiny Summerville has a 3.7 weighted GPA. She said that she loses sleep trying to get it higher.
“The past three nights, I’ve probably had three hours of sleep,” Summerville said. “All I do is worry about my next test score and trying to keep up with everyone.”
Summerville said she knows colleges receive transcripts from the school, but she always writes her GPA on every application so she knows where she stands. Through hard work, her GPA climbed.
“My normal GPA (around a 3.5) wasn’t good enough,” Summerville said. “So I’m taking AP government, literature, art and art history."
Amy Irizarry, a Braden River senior, is graduating in the top 10% of her school with a 4.2 GPA. She said she was doing everything she could to finish above a 4.0. She knew getting a "B" in an advanced placement class wouldn't be good enough.
“I skip sleep to make sure that I only get A’s," she said. "And taking classes that aren’t AP classes, that are weighted extra, is a waste of my time.”
Lakewood Ranch senior Brianna Donahue said she carries a 3.7 GPA, which isn’t perfect, but she still is proud of it, no matter how much the top of the scale increases.
Even so, she understands that her 3.7 kept her from being considered by some of her college choices.
“It felt like when I was applying to college, everything else didn’t matter but my GPA," she said. "I do wish I had taken more AP classes to get my GPA higher so that more colleges had looked at me.”