SIDNEY — There will be no more class valedictorians or salutatorians for graduating classes from Sidney High School. Instead the top students in the district will be honored for being the “Best of Sidney High School.”
During Monday night’s board of education meeting, board member Bob Smith presented a re-evaluation of commencement honors given to graduating seniors. Following the presentation, the board approved a proposal adopting GPA tiers to recognize the academic accomplishments of the students.
A committee of eight people, said Smith, met to discuss grade point averages and how they are determined for each class. The meeting, he said, developed into evaluating commencement honors for the district.
“We looked at how and when to count college prep courses,” said Smith. “We saw an increase in the number of students who were auditing classes. The students were bypassing courses because it would hurt their class rank.”
By auditing a class, he said, the student can take a pass/fail so the grade is not factored into the GPA.
Members of the committee included two high school teachers, Brett Bickel and Adam Doenges; two parents, Bob Barnes and Lori Humphrey; two administrators, high school Principal Jon Geuy and Director of Curriculum Brooke Gessler; and two board of education members, Smith and Paul Heins.
“Our goal was to reward students for taking harder classes,” said Smith, “but not to punish them for taking unweighted electives.”
Smith said the committee looked at various options on how to change the system, which has shown flaws during past graduation honors.
“We recommend doing away with valedictorians and salutatorians,” said Smith “Instead there would be tiers — summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude. Each of the tiers would require the student earning an honors diploma.”
The change, he said, would also remove the number of AP courses required by the students. It would also remove the requirement of time spend enrolled at Sidney City Schools.
“The honors diploma is determined by the Ohio Department of Education,” said Smith. “Last year, 58 students met the requirements for an honors diploma. During the 2010-11 school year, 33 met it.”
Students graduating summa cum laude, said Smith, would have to have a 4.25 GPA, earn the honors diploma and will be recognized as a group at graduation as “Best of SHS.” This, he said, replaces valedictorians and salutatorians.
Magna cum laude graduates will also have to earn an honors diploma and receive a 4.0 to 4.24 GPA. They will also be honored as a group at graduation.
Cum laude graduates will have earned a 3.75 to 3.99 GPA and an honors diploma. They will be honored at graduation as a group.
AP classes, he said, will continue to be weighted classes. College Credit Plus (CCP) in the five core classes will be weighted. Those classes include English, social studies/history, math, science and foreign languages.
“If the student is taking off campus classes (i.e. Edison), those grades will be pulled at the end of the second quarter,” said Smith. “Classes in the second semester will not help or hurt the student. If they attend classes on campus (Sidney High School) then the grades are pulled at the interim of the fourth quarter.”
The speakers for graduation, said Smith, would be the National Honor Society president, the Student Senate president and one student selected by the administration.
“There are knobs on each item for us to fine tune the tiers if we need to in the future,” said Smith. “We could raise or lower the GPA if needed. If we move from a 4 point to a 12 point scale it would change. We could also add or remove tier criteria.”
Smith said the SHS handbook will have to be updated with the new commencement requirements. He’s also been in contact with the Community Foundation of Shelby County to discuss the elimination of the valedictorian/salutatorian honors.
“The Betty P. Zorn Bennett Scholarship is given to valedictorians and salutatorians,” said Smith. “They (Community Foundation) has said they will work with us if we change this.”
One item that will be finalized in the next month or so is how the class rank will be established.
“There will no longer be a No. 1 student,” said Smith. “But there can be more than one summa cum laude students. The criteria for this will still be high enough to have value for the students. We want them to be able to take electives without it hurting their GPA.”
Jayne and Mitch Smith, of Sidney, who have a son who is an underclassman, expressed their concern about eliminating the valedictorian/salutatorian titles.
“For somebody who is on that course (valedictorian), it’s tough to earn,” said Jayne Smith. “There are honors and rewards being named valedictorian. We want our son to be the best kid he can be.”
Humphrey said she has visited four colleges and none of them are awarding scholarships to valedictorians and salutatorians.
She added that Sidney students are taking classes they’re not interested in just to get that “5” that the course is worth. Unweighted classes are worth 4 points, while weighted courses are worth 5 points.
“If nothing was weighted, it wouldn’t be an issue,” said Humphrey. “Right now it’s he who strategizes the best ends up higher (in class rank).”
“I’d hate to see a student take their foot off the gas because the student who is first is going to be put together with someone who is No. 6,” said Mitch Smith.
Doenges said the class grades are pulled midway through the fourth quarter to determine the top two students in the class.
“It’s projected who will be valedictorian,” said Doenges. “We’re working on the assumption that the work in the last four weeks, the student will get an A in the class.”
“This has been a problem for 25 years,” said Bickel.
The committee also reviewed ideas such as a NCAA “Clearing House” and GPA tiers with a specific number of AP courses. Both would remove the need to “game the system,” but both presented other problems which outweighed the benefits.
The honors diploma requires students to meet seven of eight criteria designed for the diploma. The eight requirements are four units of English; four units of math; four units of science; four units of social studies; three units of a foreign language; one unit of fine arts; 3.5 GPA on a 4.0 scale; and 27 ACT or 1210 SAT score.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4822; follow her on Twitter @MelSpeicherSDN. Follow the SDN on Facebook, www.facebook.com/SidneyDailyNews.