By Sue Botos
In an effort to recognize a broader range of student accomplishments, the Rocky River Board of Education is considering doing away with traditional honors designations such as valedictorian and salutatorian and replacing them with more inclusive options.
During the board’s May committee session, Assistant Superintendent Liz Anderson presented an outline that downplays student recognition at commencement and honors assemblies for class rank based on grade point average.
“This makes colleges take a more holistic look at students,” Anderson said, noting that by de-emphasizing ranking, students with a 4.0 GPA and a variety of activities on their resume will be on equal footing with those who may have a higher GPA, but few other accomplishments. She said that while ranking will be provided to college admissions departments upon request, some institutions do not require the information.
According to Anderson, more high schools are heading in this direction. A look at a few local schools shows that Magnificat, Bay Village and Westlake high schools do not use the traditional valedictorian/salutatorian recognition. At Magnificat, students are also not made aware of their own ranking. Fairview High School was the only one contacted by West Life that still uses the customary system.
Anderson noted that by not requiring the two students with the highest GPAs to speak at commencement, more options will be available for the ceremony. She said that, pending board approval, students in the class of 2015 can apply to speak at commencement. She added that the three selected students would not be limited to speeches, but could do a performance, such as singing or dramatic reading.
Although class rank will not be prominent under the new proposal, Anderson said high grade averages would still be recognized, using the designations of summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude at commencement. In addition, students will be awarded cords and medallions in recognition of other accomplishments, such as National Honor Society membership.
The proposal also includes a closer look at the “weighting” of classes, which allows students in AP and honors classes to have a GPA higher than 4.0. One area that will be addressed, she said, involves high school credit classes offered at the middle school. “We will clean these up,” she said, noting that since Algebra I and other classes offered to eighth-graders are not honors classes at the high school, they may not be weighted as such for middle schoolers.
Some board members expressed concern that “lightening” the weight of these classes would discourage eighth-graders from taking them. Anderson responded that these courses set up eighth-graders for advanced classes when they reach the high school.
Other traditional recognitions such as the middle school Principal’s Award for straight A’s and the high school honors assembly may also receive a makeover. “I’m open to suggestions,” she stated.
While the proposal is still in the talking stage, Anderson said she has received an overwhelmingly positive response from students, staff and administrators. ”I feel strongly about this,” she said, adding, “I’ve sat through meetings with students who have said, ‘When I learn my rank, I’m stressed out.’”
The remodeling of honors assessment will be a “work in progress,” according to Anderson, with the class of 2016, the present sophomore class, being the first to be unaware of individual class rank.
Board member Jean Rounds commented that the move would allow students to better “maximize their talents.”
“This move is inclusive rather than exclusive. We don’t want students to be penalized for being in the band or choir for four years,” Anderson said.
The school board is expected to further discuss the proposal at tomorrow’s legislative meeting.