Board considers changes to ranking system

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By Tom Wilmoth

Beginning in 2010, the top 10 designation for graduating seniors may be eliminated by the Bedford County School System as part of an effort to change that selection process.

Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bobbi Johnson told the Bedford County School Board Thursday night that the process of selecting the top 10 at each high school continues to get more complicated. She said high school principals and staff are recommending eliminating a top 10 designation for graduation beginning in 2010 in an effort to give all students an equal opportunity to compete for recognition of their efforts.

The proposal presented Thursday by Johnson was to implement a ?high honors? designation for students with a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) or higher and to give an ?honors? designation to students with a GPA of 3.5 to 3.999. Before taking action the board suggested getting more input on how other jurisdictions approach the issue.

?It is just becoming more and more complicated,? Johnson said of determining the top 10 at each school. The process was changed for this year?s graduating class in an effort to make the selections fair, but with the addition of Early College this year?s changes have been questioned.

This year?s graduating class will have the top 10 students determined by the ?rule of 24? in which the grades from 24 core classes will determine the rankings. Early College, Advanced Placement and Governor?s School classes are weighted, meaning that a student taking one of those classes can actually earn higher than a 4.0 by making an ?A? in one of those classes. The 24 class option was put into effect because some students were penalized for taking courses that weren?t weighted, such asband. A consequence of the previous system was that it encouraged students to take the minimum number of classes required to earn their diploma in order to keep their GPAs as high as possible. The school system didn?t want to discourage the students from taking such classes just in order to earn a higher ranking, so the 24 class calculation was implemented.

But Early College, in which 48 juniors and seniors attend classes at CVCC in Bedford, has added another dimension to the scale. All those classes are weighted and some parents have expressed concern that this gives those students an unfair advantage.

?We?re still going to have issues,? Johnson said of trying to come up with an equitable system. ?Somebody?s not going to be happy with what we settle on.?

Currently the top 10 senior designations are selected at the end of the third nine week grading period for the graduation ceremony. Those seniors in the top 10 at that time take a lead role in the ceremony. The actual rankings can change when the final grades are entered into the system.

If a high honors option was implemented Johnson said the students earning that would sit on the front row at graduation and be designated by their attire as having achieved that distinction, such as with a medal or ribbon. She suggested that high honors students would vote for a graduation speaker and other speakers would be determined by the school.

While the issue only affects a small percentage of the graduating classes, Johnson noted that ?it?s a big, big deal for them.?

The goal, she said, is to not have the programs available to the students compete with one another. She said it?s difficult to come up with an equitable system because comparing the programs is like comparing ?apples, bananas and oranges.?

Johnson said colleges do look at rankings and such issues become more important when competing for scholarships and applying to get into elite schools. ?I know when it comes to students in the very top of the class, there is attention to ranking,? she said.

The board requested that the staff provide more research before any changes are considered for next year.