More graduation honors, higher requirements in 2015

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By Kristin Beck

Carroll County Board of Education members came to an agreement at a work session meeting Tuesday that they would like to keep the valedictorian and salutatorian honors and add cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude designations to the Carroll County High School graduation ceremony in order to recognize more students for their achievements. The requirements for these new designations will continue to be discussed at the next regular board meeting at 5 p.m. March 27, at Carroll County Middle School.

According to the draft, the valedictorian and salutatorian honors will be kept, but with new requirements added. No action was taken since it was a work session meeting only. Fourteen parents attended the meeting to show their support for keeping the valedictorian and salutatorian designations.

Superintendent Lisa James, Ed.D., said this discussion began in October when the board asked her to collect information on the policies of other school districts regarding the valedictorian and salutatorian. See the chart on page 11 to see the policies of other area school districts.

The board also requested more information on grade scales and the role of class rankings, James said.

Assistant Superintendent Bill Hogan spoke with a variety of public and private universities to see whether they offer scholarships to valedictorians and salutatorians. He found that Duke University, University of Tennessee, Northern Kentucky University, University of Louisville and University of Cumberlands do not offer scholarships for valedictorians alone. They look at the entire picture. Harvard University does not give merit-based scholarships at all, only needs-based scholarships, he said.

University of Kentucky, Morehead State University, Campbellsville University and Cumberland University offer scholarships for valedictorians and salutatorians, he said. Some Ohio schools offer the scholarships, while the UT person told him he will find that the public institutions in Tennessee do not give them, but the private ones do. Hogan said it is all over the board and depends on where the student wants to go. “I just wanted to get a glimpse of outside of our area what’s being done.”

According to the Association of College Academic Counselors, the trend is to go away from the class rank, while the rigor of the curriculum and counselor recommendation is seen as much more important to college admission counselors, Hogan said.

CCHS Principal Tom Stephens said he talked to the teachers first about the valedictorian/salutatorian issue, but then realized they should get the students’ opinion since it applies to them. Juniors and seniors were asked if the high school should continue recognizing the first- and second-ranked students as the valedictorian and salutatorian, and 80 percent believe they should continue to be recognized, while 20 percent oppose it.

“We also had a spot on there for comments, and the overwhelming comment that we got was to keep graduation the way it is,” Stephens said.

Board Chairwoman Mona Kindoll asked why the freshmen and sophomores were not polled.

“The reason why we focused on the juniors and seniors is because they’re the ones that are closer to it and so our thought would be they would be a little more serious about graduation and what it means,” Stephens said. He said they also value the freshmen and sophomores, but they are probably thinking more about summer than about graduation.

James said they took Shelby County’s information and developed this plan based on it, as well as conversations with the high school staff, her research and Hogan’s research. She reminded the board that this is just a draft form and the start of the conversation.

According to the draft proposal, for the class of 2015, students achieving a grade point average of 3.5 or higher will be considered as graduating with honors and will be recognized by the board at the graduation ceremony. Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, GPA will be calculated according to the KEES 4.0 scale, which includes one additional quality point for Advanced Placement courses and three-quarters quality point for dual credit/college classes. Grade point averages prior to the 2014-2015 school year will remain valid and will be used in calculating a student’s grade point average.

The following academics honors will be awarded for the graduating class of 2015: Cum Laude requires a 3.5 GPA and no required coursework; Magna Cum Laude requires a 3.7 GPA and one AP or one dual credit/college course; and Summa Cum Laude requires a 4.1 GPA and two AP courses or one AP and one dual credit/college course.

Students completing two years at the Gatton Academy will be recognized based on GPA requirements, according to the draft.

Beginning with the class of 2016, the following guidelines will be in place if approved: Cum Laude requires a 3.5 GPA and no required coursework; Magna Cum Laude requires a 3.8 GPA and a minimum composite ACT score of 24 and two AP courses or one AP and one dual credit/college course; and Summa Cum Laude requires a 4.1 GPA and a minimum composite ACT score of 26 and four AP courses or two AP and two dual credit/college course.

“As a board, we can’t outweigh one over the other because AP is just as important as dual credit,” James said. “It’s according to the path of what the child wants to (do). So, whatever that child wants to do, we have to make sure that it is fair as he moves into the next level.”

Students who meet the Summa Cum Laude requirements and are the top two students in the senior class will be named valedictorian and salutatorian under these guidelines.

“We hear from our high school, our partner, that it’s still important to them,” James said of the honors. “It’s tradition, I hear that a lot. And no matter what you do, you’re still going to have a class ranking. You’re still going to have a first and second place no matter if you change the label or you don’t change the label.”

“We feel we are setting a high bar for students to achieve and finding ways to honor them when they reach this bar,” Stephens said. “The required courses, we have those in there because we want to make sure we are challenging our students, we’re stretching them, maybe forcing them to go a little bit further than they may have otherwise. And it was important to us to give them the AP option as well as the JCTC option because both pathways are important and we want to make sure the students do have those options.”

With the current wording, only those students reaching Summa Cum Laude status will be eligible to be named the valedictorian or salutatorian.

CCHS Guidance Counselor Sheree Richter, who was in attendance, said in her 12 years at CCHS, she has never had a valedictorian who had not met those benchmarks. However, there have been years when the salutatorian has not met that minimum composite ACT score of 26, so there could be years when there is not a salutatorian named.

Kindoll said she wanted to make sure all students receive the same opportunities, including those who are interested in a career path or those who want to take both AP and JCTC classes.

Richter explained some of the scheduling challenges they have faced, as well as what they are doing to address them. Stephens also said some students are taking AP courses online at the Center for Accelerated Learning.

The new guidelines are based on the current grading scale of 93-100. James said she strongly suggested the board change the grading scale to 90-100 because of the KEES money. “We’re in competition across the state, so if a lot of these districts are saying 90-100, then we need to line up with those people so our kids can be more competitive in that area.”

Kindoll added, “We could be potentially be penalizing some of our kiddos by having the 93-100, but I don’t want the public to perceive that we are cutting back on our requirements and making it easier for them to obtain A’s, so there is a fine line there on how do we approach this? We want people to understand that if we do change it to 90-100, we’re not decreasing the rigor. We are doing this because we want out students to have the same monetary [opportunities] the other students are getting.”

Kindoll allowed the audience to ask questions, and two parents had questions about the ACT requirement.

Paula Curry said she knew the ACT was offered free to students once, but wanted to know what could be done to help students who would like to take the test and improve their score. Richter said the high school offers two fee waivers – either twice junior year or once junior year and once senior year.

Stephens added that the high school also is providing free ACT-prep during school hours, giving students the opportunity to get that additional practice and help improve their scores. They also held a Super Saturday ACT prep day March 1, which provided students the chance to take a practice-ACT test and attend class rotations with math, science, English and reading instructors.

Bill Osborne asked why there was interest in using the ACT scores to recognize more students. James said the school must meet its College and Career Readiness goals, and the ACT scores are part of the career pathways and also are used in other career assessments.

“I do not deny it’s important … but as far as recognizing students, this is a measure of what they have done at the high school, whereas ACT is something outside of the high school,” he said.

Kindoll said she believes there should be some kind of minimum ACT score, but the minimum score could be changed.

In his research, Stephens said he has been looking at a lot of college entrance requirements and scholarship requirements, which look at both GPA and ACT scores. “My thought process with this is if our students aren’t getting those scores, then we need to be pushing them, so ways that we can push those kids to reach those high scores,” he said. “Again, I don’t want to punish a student who has test anxiety, but on the flip side we’ve got to be challenging them, we’ve got to be pushing them and even those that have test anxiety, we have to find supports to help them because they’re going to be facing that as they go on with their careers.”

James said she would pull more information from different school districts for the next board meeting. This is a two-reading process, she said, so the board could choose what policy they like most and have the first reading in April and the second in May to move forward into next school year.