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home : most recent : statewide implications August 16, 2017

6/18/2017 7:13:00 PM
Are Indiana high school valedictorians, salutatorians soon to be extinct?

Jess Cohen, Vincennes Sun-Commercial

As a growing number of school districts across the state revamp the traditional system that designates valedictorians and salutatorians, the local perspective on such class rankings is something of a mixed bag.

According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, about half of schools no longer report class rank.

Indiana school districts in Hamilton County, Kokomo and Fort Wayne will rethink their ranking system, according to Indiana Public Broadcasting. Many districts are instead incorporating the laude system that's similar to the way universities recognize graduates based on GPA.

The Associated Press reported that colleges are now adjusting to the increasing number of applications that arrive without a rank, though many applications do ask for it if it's available.

Two of Knox County's three public school corporations have stuck with the ranking system. Lincoln High School within the Vincennes Community School Corp. is the only one that does not report class rank in the traditional sense, and principal Steve Combs said it's been that way for as long as he can remember.

“I graduated from Lincoln in 1990 and we didn't have a valedictorian or salutatorian at that time,” he said. “How we recognize our grades is through honors and high honors, and there is a top graduate award that's given at Senior Awards Night.

“We had nine kids this year with 4.0's, which would've made it interesting to try and award a valedictorian.”

Superintendent Greg Parsley has worked in education for over 20 years, with both schools that rank students and schools that don't.

The primary issue with the system, he said, is related to weighting grades — something that has become trickier considering the wide variety of classes that are offered within high schools.

“You have students who are taking early-college and dual-credit offerings through universities, and you have students who are simply taking regular high school programming,” Parsley said. “The bottom line has become, and I believe why you are seeing more and more schools that are actually doing away with the two academic honors, is because the nature of high school programming has drastically changed over the years.”

Combs said his own opinion on the ranking system was solidified after his oldest son went off to college. Throughout the college search, Combs sat through several admissions presentations and began to understand that universities realize it's nearly impossible to objectively judge class rankings from school to school and state to state.

Instead, they'll zero in on three things on each application.

“They're going to look at the courses that the student took versus what the school has to offer, the activities that student is involved in, and those standardized test scores,” Combs said. “I don't know what the purpose would be to get into (the rankings) because every university is going to weigh the transcripts they get on their own merit.”

North Knox Junior/Senior High School names valedictorians and salutatorians. Counselor Dawn Elkins said the rankings are determined based on the highest GPAs out of a 4.0 scale; if multiple students have the same high GPA, they get the same recognition.

“Our valedictorian and salutatorian have to be on the academic honors diploma track [and] that eliminates students taking easier classes to have a higher GPA,” she said.

While discussions within the high school about revamping the ranking policy haven't made it to the table, Elkins noted that she is on several email lists where counselors are talking about revamping their systems.

And if North Knox were to ever consider changing the way they rank students, superintendent Darrel Bobe said, that change would have to be announced long before it was actually implemented so students would be aware before they even entered high school and current high schoolers' goals wouldn't be derailed.

“I don't think it would be fair to make that change knowing kids have been working toward that for so long,” he said. “We'd have to do that quite a few years in advance.”

The ranking system may encourage some competition within the academic setting, which Bobe said can be a good thing in terms of preparing students for the workforce environment.

Another positive to the ranking system is that parents do appreciate seeing their kids recognized for all their hard work.

But if you were to ask Bobe for his personal opinion on the rankings, he sees some downsides to the system.

“I don't mind being competitive as long as the playing field is equal,” Bobe said. “And you'll never really know that because one student might go through something in his life during high school that could throw things off.”

Copyright #YYYY# Vincennes Sun Commercial

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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