New grading scale could affect graduation

Published 8:59 am Thursday, May 26, 2016

A state-mandated change to a 10-point grading scale and weighting of courses has prompted a recommendation to changes during graduation that could affect the current freshman classes at Davie High and the Early College.

In a presentation before the board at the May 10 meeting, Erin Foil, director of accountability and student information, and Jinda Haynes, director of curriculum, told the board the state’s changes will likely result in an increase in ties in class rank that would complicate the academic recognitions associated with rank.

A committee called GRIT (Graduation Recognition Innovation Team) was formed, comprised of representatives from high schools, the central office, and parents met over the spring to review current procedures and explore options for recognitions. Principals at both schools met with students

Currently, at Davie High, the valedictorian, salutatorian and third ranked senior deliver speeches at graduation, and the rankings are determined at the end of the first semester.

At the Early College, the valedictorian and/or salutatorian and a student-chosen speaker deliver speeches at graduation.

Junior marshals are determined at the end of the first semester of their junior year at both schools.

The committee, Haynes said, liked the idea of establishing levels of distinction or honors based on a cumulative GPA.

“We wanted to focus on GPA rather than rank. When we focus on rank, we end up with students who bump other students versus if we look at GPA and have a set criteria, then all who meet those lofty targets earn recognition,” she said.

She said the committee also “thoroughly discussed when honors could, should, and would be determined. So as we talk about these levels of distinction, with the number of students we’re talking about recognizing, the levels would have to be determined at the end of the first semester of that senior year.”

The committee developed proposals for the district policy, but committees at both schools would determine their own procedures.

One of the first recommendations is to change the name from class rank to special academic recognition.

Foil said students at Davie favor the Latin honor system, using the terms cum laude (with honor), magna cum laude (with great honor) and summa cum laude (with highest honor). Those honors would be based on minimum grade point averages.

But they also wanted to retain the designations of valedictorian and salutatorian to be at least acknowledged during the graduation ceremony. An augmented scale would be used to break a tie between the two, if necessary. The top two places would be determined at the end of the second semester of the senior year.

At the Early College, the use of Honors and High Honors would be used to indicate levels of distinction for graduates, and those levels would also be determined by minimum grade point averages.

The schools would decide individually the number of graduation speakers, how speakers would be chosen, and what visual recognitions would be used, such as special symbols in the graduation programs to signify student accomplishments, cords, collars, medals, and so forth.

Haynes said Davie favors one academic speaker chosen from the top 10 students by the top 10 students, and another speaker, the recipient of the War Eagle Award, a graduate who exemplifies good character, leadership and service to the community, nominated by the community and voted on by the senior class.

At the Early College, Haynes said “their approach to speakers was a little more flexible than at Davie” and would incorporate student nomination and voting, as that is part of their culture, she said. There would be one speaker who earned academic honors and another who is eligible for the Phoenix Award, which is focused on a well-rounded student who exemplifies not only academic excellence but also character and citizenship.

Junior marshals at both schools would be determined by cumulative weighted GPA at the end of first semester of their junior year. At Davie, there would be 11, and at the Early College, no more than 10.

Foil said, “Another important thing the committee really looked at was making sure we recognized all students in whatever path they took through high school, also recognizing students with very high unweighted GPAs if they take classes that aren’t weighted. That can be more inclusive of students rather than bumping anyone out of a recognition because they may have taken different classes.”

Expectations would be communicated to students either by their ninth grade year or during the registration process for ninth grade.

Superintendent Dr. Darrin Hartness said other school systems are dealing with the same issues, adding: “I believe this process with the Latin honors, especially at Davie High, and at the Early College with high honors and honors recognizes a group of students who have earned that recognition. It’s hard for me to say that our top 10 students that might be separated by thousandths of points in their GPAs should not all be recognized. So I really like this process you’ve been through, and I applaud the committee for bringing these recommendations.”

The board is expected to vote on the policy changes at their June meeting. Minimum GPA requirement recommendations are located on the board’s website in the section, under the May 11 agenda, Special Academic Recognition.