Polk County high schools adopt honor graduate recognition beginning in 2019

Published 9:30 pm Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Graci Moser would have preferred her high school transcript include a wider variety of classes.

But the 2015 Polk County High School graduate worried that taking art, theater or agriculture might negatively affect her class rank. So she opted for additional honors and Advanced Placement classes, which awarded extra quality points, in order to keep her grade-point average as high as possible.

“I felt that I couldn’t take the classes I had an interest in, like art or agriculture,” said Moser, now a sophomore at UNC-Wilmington. “I instead took honors and AP classes to keep up my GPA.

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“I feel prepared for college, but I might have chosen a different path if I could have taken different classes and not had my GPA be highly affected.”

A new policy recently approved by the Polk County Board of Education could allow students more latitude when choosing classes while creating additional opportunities to be recognized for academic excellence at graduation.

Beginning with the class of 2019 – this year’s sophomores – Polk County High School and Polk County Early College will recognize during graduation all seniors who achieve one of three honor statuses. No longer will either school recognize a valedictorian or salutatorian.

Based on the Latin System of Recognition, the honor levels include:

• Cum Laude – 3.9 grade point average or above

• Magna Cum Laude – 4.1 GPA or above

• Summa Cum Laude – 4.4 GPA or above

A 14-member Honor Graduate Committee comprised of parents, board members, students, administrators and faculty members recommended the identification of honor students via the Latin system after a three-month study prompted by two factors:

• The move to a 10-point grading scale, plus changes in the amount of quality points for honors and Advanced Placement classes and elimination of partial points for plus/minus grades, mandated by the North Carolina Legislature effective with the class of 2019

• A growing focus by students on bettering class rank rather than taking advanced college preparatory classes

Polk County high schools have traditionally used an augmented scale to award extra quality points for higher numerical grades. So a final grade of 99, for example, would merit extra quality points compared to a grade of 93, though both were recorded as A’s on a student’s report card.

But in addition to moving all schools to a 10-point scale (90-100 for an A, 80-89 for a B and so on), state legislators also eliminated the option of using an augmented scale. Thus a grade of 90 now carries the same grade-point weight as a grade of 99 in a class. Legislators also reduced the amount of quality points awarded for an AP class from two to one and for an honors class from one to 0.5.

Those changes are expected to “clump” more students together when ranked by grade-point average, said Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene. To aid the honor committee’s work, PCS staff members took the new standard and analyzed how they would have affected previous graduating classes. In every instance, officials saw that clumping pattern prevalent.

“No doubt we would have multiple valedictorians,” Greene said. “But not only would valedictorian and salutatorian be difficult to gauge, but we had evidence of graduating seniors coming back and telling us that the pursuit of grade-point averages and class rank is unhealthy when talking about course work and the ability to examine different options.

“We wanted to preserve our special graduation ceremony. We think that it’s unique and impactful and we want to preserve that. We don’t want to diminish the historical aspect of the ceremony by breaking with the tradition, but we feel and the committee feels that this is the best way to go.”

For both high schools, the Board of Education left the process for selection of commencement speakers to school administrators to determine. Greene said the committee did recommend that each school consider selecting students from those achieving summa cum laude status, but that the process will ultimately be decided at each school. School administrators will also determine the selection process for junior marshals. Both honors have historically been based on class rank.

“The committee did feel it was best to preserve the academic focus to select the high school students who speak,” Greene said. “But that’s a decision that school administrators will ultimately make.”

Per the new policy, high school principals may compile class rankings periodically and make the information available to a student, his or her parents or guardians and other institutions at the request of the student or his or her parents or guardians.

– article submitted by PolkStudents.com