Accomack School Board Considers New Class Ranking System

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Photo by Stefanie Jackson – Accomack school board member Audrey Furness accepts a plaque commemorating more than 30 years of service June 18. Looking on are Vice Chairman Ronnie Holden, Chairman Paul Bull, and Superintendent Chris Holland. It was Furness’ last school board meeting before her final term expires June 30.

By Stefanie Jackson – Accomack high school graduations may no longer have valedictorian or salutatorian speeches as of 2022, because the two top-ranking students may no longer be acknowledged.

“We’ve had parents, students, counselors, administrators” ask that graduates no longer be ranked, Director of Secondary Education Karen Taylor said at the June 18 school board meeting.

Instead, each student with a GPA (grade point average) of 3.0 or higher would be recognized as an honor graduate.

An honor graduate with a GPA of 3.5 or higher would receive one of three Latin honor distinctions traditionally awarded to college graduates.

A student with a GPA between 3.5 and 3.75 would graduate cum laude or “with honor.” With a GPA between 3.76 and 3.99, a student would graduate magna cum laude or “with great honor.” A student with a GPA of 4.0 or higher would graduate summa cum laude or “with highest honor.”

Taylor indicated the title of valedictorian or salutatorian loses its significance when a tie for either of those ranks must be broken by calculating each student’s GPA to one-hundredth or one-thousandth of a point.

“Why aren’t we honoring all the students?” she asked. “I mean, we should be encouraging excellence and the hard work they’re doing, the dual-enrollment classes they’re taking, but we only … recognize number one and two.”

School board member George Waldenmaier pointed out that senior class rank and the Latin honor system are not “mutually exclusive” and both could be used.

He said class rank is “very important to kids in driving them for excellence – it’s who’s number one, who’s number two, who’s number three …”

“… It’s more for the parents,” school board chairman Paul Bull interjected. “It’s kind of like Little League baseball.”

Taylor agreed that in some cases, parents are more concerned with class rank than students.

Another reason for using the Latin honor system is to acknowledge the academic achievements of students, such as those from military families, who transfer to an Accomack school during their senior year and are not eligible for inclusion in the class ranking system, Taylor said.

School board member Audrey Furness asked if numerical grades are still used to determine class rank. Taylor said they are used only to break a tie that remains after two GPAs have been calculated to one-thousandth of a point.

But the fairness of that practice is questionable if a student’s grades in regular classes are compared to another student’s grades in advanced placement classes, Taylor added.

Any changes in the use of senior class rank or the Latin honor system will appear in Accomack’s updated guide on high school course offerings and graduation requirements.

Taylor anticipates the school board will vote on the matter at its July 16 meeting.

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