Why has the SPS School Board made changes to valedictorian status?
For years, Spokane Public Schools has recognized valedictorians – which almost every year were students with a 4.0 GPA. The problem with this policy is that it recognizes grade point averages only, which actually discourages students from taking more challenging courses. It may also discourage students from taking a balanced course load that includes things like music and arts, athletics, or other electives.
SPS high schools will continue to have valedictorians through the class of 2019. At this time, valedictorian status is determined using non-weighted grades.
Why did the school board implement a change to weighted grades?
The board implemented weighted grades to provide students the opportunity to take more challenging courses without being penalized for not getting an A. We want students taking courses they are interested in, and that will best prepare them for post-secondary studies.
Weighted grades are calculated by providing higher points for grades earned in Honors courses and still higher points for grades earned in AP courses:
A = 4.5
A = 5
B = 3.5
B = 4
C = 2.5
C = 3
D = 1.5
D = 2
F = 0
F = 0
Because SPS uses a +/- grading scale, the above table is only a sampling of options. The easiest way for students to calculate the weighted grade point average is to add .5 to the GPA for honors classes and a 1.0 for Advanced Placement classes.
Why did the board decide to use the Latin Honors system?
Prior to weighted grades being implemented, the highest GPA a student could get was a 4.0. With weighted grades, every honors and AP course has the potential to bring a student’s weighted GPA higher. Students sometimes drop non-weighted courses – like jazz band, which provides a well-rounded schedule – just to be able to take more AP and honors courses and get a higher GPA.
The top tier of the Latin Honors system (Summa Cum Laude ) will recognize approximately the top 3 percent of the senior class, instead of those who took the most AP and honors courses. The goal is to reward students who work hard, take rigorous courses, and have a well-rounded schedule.
How will the Latin Honors system work?
This system will recognize the top students at each high school using weighted grade point averages. Students will have the ability to get three different levels of recognition: Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Cum Laude. These are the same designations that colleges across the nation use to recognize top students. Currently SPS is considering a 4.3 GPA for Summa Cum Laude, a 4.1 for Magna Cum Laude, and a 3.8 for Cum Laude recognition.
These designations would honor approximately 3 percent, 5 percent and 12 percent of our current senior class for each category.
Why did the board also make changes to class rank? Historically, class rank sorted students from the highest to lowest GPA. For example, students in a class of 400 would be ranked from first to number 400. Prior to weighted grades, the highest GPA was a 4.0. After weighted grades, students could have an even higher GPA. Taking non-weighted courses, however, had the potential to lower a GPA, even if a student got an A in the class.
Using a decile system for class rank will provide equity. Instead of sorting students from 1-400, the new class ranking system gives all students in the top 10 percent of the class the same rank. Students will not be penalized for deciding to take more classes. The goal is to encourage students to take classes that interest them and will prepare them for post-secondary success, not just to get good grades.
What are colleges looking for in student applications?
Colleges tell us they look for four things in students: good grades in high school; rigorous schedules; high test scores; and extracurricular, co-curricular, and leadership activities (this includes band, choir, clubs, community service, church, scouts, etc.).
Weighted grades have been an improvement over the old system, which only valued good grades. The board's changes are meant to further encourage students to challenge themselves in high school. We do not want to have policies that would encourage students to drop any courses during high school for the expressed purpose of taking an extra AP course. Student course selection should have rigor but should also include non-weighted courses that match with their interests and post-secondary goals. Having a policy that would subtly encourage some students to drop non-weighted courses would oppose what colleges are looking for.
We want students to enroll in and excel in a balanced course-load that interests and prepares them for postsecondary pursuits, not to worry about getting ahead of their classmates.
When will these changes go into effect?
These changes go into effect starting with the class of 2020.
Will more students be recognized with these new policies? Are these standards too low?
No. In most schools, fewer students will be recognized through the new Latin Honors system. It will be rigorous and challenging for students to reach these standards.
How long have changes been considered? Who was involved?
These changes were under consideration for about a year and a half. Administrators from every high school brought forward questions and concerns from staff, students, and parents and looked nationwide for solutions. We also conducted student focus groups to allow student leaders from each high school to give input. Students were strongly in favor of proposed changes because they keep an emphasis on rigor but reduce competition between students.
How will class speakers at high schools be determined?
Each high school has its own process for determining class speakers. No board policies dictate how schools should make these decisions. Each high school will continue to have its own internal processes to determine class speakers.