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Yellow Springs High School

Plan ends Yellow Springs High School class ranking

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Characterizing the calculations that determine class rankings as “unfair,” McKinney Middle and Yellow Springs High School Principal Tim Krier laid out a plan at the Thursday, Oct. 12, school board meeting to discontinue the designation of a graduating valedictorian and salutatorian.

Instead of naming the seniors with the highest and second highest grade-point averages, the high school this year will implement a system that recognizes larger groups of students with the institutional Latin honors of summa cum laude (with highest honor), magna cum laude (with great honor) and cum laude (with honor).

The recommended change was prompted by recently implemented grading differences between honors classes, specifically Advanced Placement courses, at the high school, and College Credit Plus classes in which students in grades 7–12 can, as the name suggests, take courses for both college and local district credit. A typical three-credit college course earns one high school credit.

In order to recognize the difficulty of honors classes and the additional work students are expected to put into them, the school gives extra “weight” to the final grades, awarding five points for an A-plus (grades of 96 percent or higher) on a four-point grading scale. College Credit Plus classes, however, award five points to any “A” (grades of 90 percent or higher).

The student effort may also differ. A college course is a semester long, while the advanced high school classes typically extend through an entire academic year. Class meeting times vary as well.

Comparing the effort and grades of a College Credit Plus with an advanced high school class is like mixing apples and oranges, Krier told the school board. And the subsequent grade-point averages “toss class rank into real disarray,” he said.

Particularly troubling is that “it’s possible for a student to game the system,” Krier said in a phone interview this week. “A student could just take as few classes as they wanted” or concentrate on the easiest classes with the most grade-point weight. And taken to extreme, it allows for the possibility of a student completing his or her high school career as valedictorian without taking a “step in our building.”

The grade-point formula is “unfair and a misrepresentation,” he said. Even before the College Credit Plus grading became an issue, class rankings could be problematic, the principal added. “There have been years where students have gotten in dysfunctional competitions with their peers.”

Eliminating the rankings not only made sense for Yellow Springs, but also falls in line with more than half of the high schools in the country, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, Krier said.

In determining the Latin honors designations, the school first will give students in advanced high school classes the same graded weight as College Credit Plus: five points for any A. A 4.15 or higher will earn a summa designation, a 4.0–4.14 will be magna and 3.76–3.99 will be cum laude.

Two student commencement speakers will be chosen from the pool of Latin honor recipients through audition by a committee of teachers and students.

Board member Anne Erickson noted that the district had eliminated class rank as it pertained to compiling student honor rolls during her prior tenure on the school board.

The current district policy states that “no rankings of an entire class shall be made, except when requested by colleges and universities for admission or to determine the salutatorian and valedictorian.”

The proposed policy change, which the board unanimously approved in first reading Oct. 12, strikes out the reference to valedictorian and salutatorian, and ends the sentence after the word “admission.”

A second reading of the proposal will need to be approved before the change goes into effect.

In other board business Oct. 12:

• Under “Facilities Update,” listed on the agenda as part of the superintendent’s report, Superintendent Mario Basora said that in reviewing past school board minutes, he had ascertained that a facilities-related update had been on every board agenda since August 2016. He said he wanted to bring this forward to make the point that the district has consistently kept the issue before the public, including hosting a series of community forums and pulse meetings that began in March. The board did not set dates for two additional public forums announced last spring to be held in this fall, but Basora said that the community survey being conducted by Wright State University on the district’s behalf should be done by the end of this week.

Basora also said he wanted to address a point that had been made at a meeting of a concerned citizens group the night before and in an Other Voices piece published in the News. According to district data, Yellow Springs is 11th out of 33 school districts in Greene, Montgomery and Clarke counties in the level of  its local property tax millage, not at the top, as the speaker and writer stated. “We’re not even close to No. 1,” he said.

• Superintendent Basora announced that the district and the Yellow Springs Education Association (the teachers union) will begin negotiations this fall on salaries and benefits. His hope is to complete the process in November.

Relatedly, the district has since announced a special board meeting Tuesday, Oct. 24, from 1–3 p.m., which will consist of an executive session to discuss “preparing for negotiations or bargaining sessions with employees” and “the employment of an employee or official.”

•Principal Krier presented the proposed itinerary for the eighth-grade class trip, April 4–7, to Washington, D.C., which the board unanimously approved. Plans include visits to multiple museums and monuments, with a half-day stop at the Gettysburg, Penn., Civil War battlefield on the way home.

Superintendent Basora said that tickets for a Friday night theater performance of August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running” at Arena Stage have been paid for by a donation from Miguel’s Tacos food truck, which gives 50 percent of its Wednesday sales to the school district. Owner Miguel Espinoza is married to the district’s director of advancement and community relations, Dawn Boyer.

• In wake of the re-establishment last spring of the inactive United Student Society — a middle and high school group that until about 10 years ago had promoted engagement around issues of diversity, particularly race — the board agreed to the creation of the supplemental position of United Student Society advisor, with an annual compensation of $590–$656. The board approved a one-year term as USS advisor for McKinney English teacher Jaime Adoff at $656.

• Superintendent Basora recommended that new federal Title IV grant money be used to finance two reading tutor positions at Mills Lawn previously funded through the Title I program, which Congress has dramatically cut. The board approved John Gudgel as an MLS Title IV paraprofessional tutor for one hour a day,  five days a week, and Kelli Lewis at six hours a day, two days a week, both at $15.35 an hour and effective Oct. 2.

Title IV, part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed into law in December 2015, authorizes block grants in three broadly defined areas: providing students with a well-rounded education; supporting safe and healthy students; and supporting the effective use of technology.

An 18.5 percent — $20,000 — reduction in Title I funding this school year forced Mills Lawn to cut its Reading Center staffing from a typical team of three or four people to a reading specialist teacher and an aide. The Title IV money helps fill in the gap.

• Board member Steve Conn announced that District Superintendent Basora was one of three superintendents in the state to receive this year’s Buckeye Association Award for School Administrators. The honor includes paid participation in the spring Global Leadership Summit, which brings together students and administrators from around the world. This spring’s summit will be in Berlin, Germany, Basora said.

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