WCPSS to Stop Naming Valedictorians

People like to know who is number one.

So there’s no surprise that many people were upset when the Wake County Board of Education last week approved a new policy which prohibited the naming of valedictorians and salutatorians at all of the district’s high schools.

In place of naming the two students in each graduating class with the highest grade point averages, the 25 WCPSS high schools will use the Latin system used by many colleges, which is a tiered system based on grade point average known as cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude. Student transcripts will still reflect class rank to comply with state law.

The Latin honors system is more inclusive. With graduating classes with hundreds of high-performing students, it seems awfully exclusive to recognize just two students for having the highest GPA. This is especially true when GPAs are being calculated out to fourth or fifth place after the decimal point. Such a miniscule difference separating the first and second student may seem necessary when deciding between those two places, but what happens when it is also deciding the places of the 20 downline students, too. This dilemma raises questions like: Are their academic achievements not equally impressive and worth recognizing? Or is it better to have a 20-way tie for valedictorian?

The structure under the new policy is tiered so that students who earn a GPA between 3.75 and 3.99 will earn cum laude honors; those between 4.0 and 4.25 will earn magna cum laude honors; and those between 4.25 and 4.5 will earn summa cum laude honors.

When these tiers were first announced, critics suggested these bands were too low and “everyone would get a trophy.” However, when the state changed the grading scale from 7 points to 10 points between A-F grade levels, it also adjusted the “quality points” assigned to class structures. The highest GPA a student can earn under the new system will be 4.5, instead of 5.0 under the previous 7-point scale.

Students in the Class of 2019, the ones who just finished their freshman year of high school, will be the first class to graduate under the Latin honors system. This is because they are also the first class who fall under the new quality point structure mentioned above, according to WCPSS Deputy Superintendent for Academic Advancement Cathy Moore.

Students from Heritage High School thought this was unfair to the freshman and they requested a change during the public comment period of the school board’s agenda on Tuesday, June 7. Jason Lee, the 2016 Heritage valedictorian, and James Hamil asked the school board members to consider a compromise to make the switch for the Class of 2020 instead since they had not already started their high school careers.

Board member Keith Sutton asked for discussion on the policy when it came up for a vote at that meeting to honor the request of the two students. After discussion, though, the new policy was adopted unanimously. 

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