Recognizing Academic Excellence
As we delve deep into the class rank discussion, and argue the reasons to eliminate rank, we must reevaluate the use of the traditional titles of valedictorian and salutatorian implemented by Kingsway. These titles are reserved for those students ranked first and second in the class, respectively. In reality, it is a mere hundredth of a tenth of a point that may separate student GPAs for ranking purposes and often the culprit of tremendous angst among our students.
As a result, many students overload their high school schedules with high-level courses while taking multiple college classes in an attempt to boost class rank and get to the top. Tom Guskey, an Educational Psychologist at the University of Kentucky reported on this phenomenon in a 2015 Kappan Magazine article and writes, “It is true in many schools incorporating a ranking system that students analyze their school’s selection procedures for picking the class valedictorian. With the help of their parents, they find ingenious ways to improve their standing in comparison to classmates. Stories abound of students gaming the system in order to gain some advantage such as avoiding classes in dance, music or the arts because the ‘A’ in an unweighted class can bring down their GPA.” 17 This occurs under the misguided belief that the higher one is ranked, the better the odds will be for acceptance into a top college or university. In this flawed system, ranked first is a guarantee; however, fifth, sixth or seventh is often deemed “not good enough.” In fact, the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University rejected more than 60 percent of valedictorians who applied for admission.6
This strategy distracts from the true purpose of education - the learning process - and does little to improve a student’s chances for college acceptance. Kingsway’s experience is, in fact, similar to what one Cincinnati, Ohio high school reported last spring, “Kids were using their summers, using time during the year, to stack themselves up with even more classes,” said Tracey Carson of Mason High School. 15
We believe in recognizing academic achievement, and Kingsway intends to celebrate students for their outstanding achievement at their commencement ceremony (OR upon graduating) The Academic Distinction Program, adapted from the traditional Latin Honors Program often used by colleges and universities, will recognize students as follows:
- Summa Cum Laude – Awarded to students who achieve an weighted GPA of 3.90 or higher
- Magna Cum Laude – Awarded to students who achieve an weighted GPA of 3.70 – 3.89
- Cum Laude – Awarded to Students who achieve an weighted GPA of 3.50 – 3.69
The Great Schools Partnership reports the advantages of a Latin Honors Program are as follows: 19
- Latin honors recognize the academic accomplishments of more students. Instead of honoring only a handful of students whose performance may be based on relatively small differences in GPA, Latin honors recognize all students whose performance exceeded high academic standards.
- Latin honors represent a much broader spectrum of academic accomplishment. The three levels of Latin honors—Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Cum Laude—can be adapted by schools to reflect their distinct academic standards, while also giving more students the opportunity to work hard and earn recognition for their achievements.
- Latin honors are more fundamentally equitable. When academic recognition is based on relative measures and student-to-student comparisons, rather than the same consistent standards, one student’s success is another student’s failure, and vice versa. In addition, when “success” and “failure” are defined by fractionally small differences in GPA, the fundamental fairness of the system is called into question.
- Colleges, universities, and the public are familiar with Latin honors. Instead of devising a new system of academic recognition that may be unfamiliar or confusing, schools can use Latin honors, which provide an established, understandable system with a long and storied academic tradition.
In the same article, Great Schools Partnership goes on to describe the disadvantages of class rank as follows:
- Class ranking only recognizes a comparatively small number of students—the valedictorian, salutatorian, and top-performing percentiles—whose performance has been measured against other students, rather than the same consistently applied learning standards.
- In some cases, fractional differences in GPA often determine class rank. For example, a mere thousandth of a point difference in GPA may determine which student becomes the valedictorian or which students fall within the top tenth percentile. Such vanishingly small differences in academic performance can render class-ranking comparisons essentially meaningless, including graduating classes with ten or twenty-five “valedictorians” who all achieved numerically perfect academic records.
- Students may decline to take educationally valuable courses or pursue personal interests because certain courses may be considered too challenging (therefore presenting a greater likelihood of a lower grade) or because they present a mathematical disadvantage when it comes to calculating GPA and class rank (such as non-weighted arts courses, for example, in schools that use weighted-grade systems).
- Students may narrowly fixate on numerical indicators of academic performance and minuscule scoring discrepancies that might adversely affect their GPA. Consequently, they may also experience greater anxiety, academic pressure, or feelings of failure, rather than enjoying learning, challenging themselves academically, accepting and overcoming failures, or focusing on the larger purpose and benefits of education.