The Dayton (OH) Public Schools District made a controversial move last week when they announced that they were lowering the academic standards for their student-athletes to a 1.0 grade point average (on a 4.0 scale).

As an educator, now in my fifth year as an administrator, and former collegiate athletics academic advisor I am here to tell you something about GPAs. They are nothing more than arbitrary numbers. There is a nearly infinite amount of variables that factor into a student’s GPA. Here are a handful:

  • Quality of instruction
  • Rigor of classes
  • Quality of assessments
  • Additional Support (from teachers, parents, other school resources)
  • Curriculum accommodations for students with diagnosed learning challenges

Just to name a few. I will go to my grave having realized through my professional experiences that colleges and universities put way too much stock in a high school student’s GPA through the admissions process. Even the NCAA requires a minimum 2.0 GPA for admission and

I get it. GPAs seem objective. They are a number determined by a quantifiable equation. The problem is that GPAs are – I’ll use that word again – arbitrary.

A 2.0 GPA means something different at Harvard than it does at the University of Dayton than it does at Wright State University. A 2.0 GPA means something different at Ponitz High School (a Dayton Public School) than it does at Dayton Chaminade-Julienne High School than it does at Dayton Christian High School.

And, as an educator, I don’t know what those GPAs mean. And you don’t know what they mean. And the student-athletes don’t even know what they mean. They just think they know that a 4.0 is great. And a 2.0 or 1.0, or whatever minimum requirement is set, is just good enough.

If the curriculum and the instruction don’t make it subjective enough, the various learning styles and needs of each individual student take it to another level of subjectivity. Heck, the same GPA for two athletes on the same team can meet completely different things because of the classes they take and curriculum modifications and accommodations made.

I propose, instead, that we measure these young people on their effort. Are they striving to meet the demands of the academic challenges they are presented? Are they working to improve every day? I’ll take a kid with a 1.5 GPA who is working his backside off over a 3.5 GPA who has no work ethic any day.

And, most importantly, let’s measure their character. Are they good citizens? Are they respectful to adults, to their peers, and to the opposite gender? Are they willing to work cooperatively with others?

So I am not going to criticize mandating a 1.0 GPA. Does it sound low – sure it does. But if each and every one of those student-athletes who earn above a 1.00 GPA are working hard and exhibit good character, by all means, let them reap the rewards of playing high school athletics.