Wake County, NC Schools Grapple With School Rankings, Pledge

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The school system in Wake County, North Carolina may eliminate naming valedictorians and salutatorians in high school and instead begin a system that would recognize more top students in each year’s graduating class.

The school board backed a policy that follows closely with the ranking policy used in colleges. Students would be acknowledged with titles such as summa cum laude (with highest praise), magna cum laude (with great praise), and cum laude (with praise). These rankings would be based on the students’ accumulated grades, writes T. Keung Hui of The News & Observer.

The designations of valedictorian and salutatorian would end with the class of 2018. Students who graduate in 2019 would be the first class to have the new classifications.

Seven out of nine members of the board were at the meeting, so approval was likely.

“I endorse the idea totally 100 percent,” said school board Chairman Tom Benton. “I think the competition for valedictorian and salutatorian over the course of the years has become almost toxic. It’s unhealthy for individuals. It’s unhealthy for collaboration.”

Benton added that the change would allow students to concentrate on their personal goals and spend less time on thinking about how he or she compares to other students.

All recognitions are weighted, meaning that Advanced Placement classes add to the rating. The Latin acknowledgments recognize students with a GPA of 4.25 or higher with the honor of summa cum laude. Seniors with a GPA of 4.0 to 4.249 would receive the designation magna cum laude.

Graduates who have a GPA of 3.75 to 3.99 could be ranked cum laude.

Some schools in the county have already stopped the valedictorian and salutatorian appellations. Drew Cook, Wake’s senior director for high school programs, said the proposal was welcomed by administrators as a way to promote more consistency in policy among all schools.

The honors designations come as another change is being discussed in Wake County over the adjustment of the teaching guidelines related to the Pledge of Alliance.

An idea that had been suggested was using the pledge as an opportunity to teach students about the history of the oath because it concerns the “coercion and the importance of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.”

Leaders in the district said that the concept was borrowed from a policy at the North Carolina Board Association. It would give students the opportunity to choose not to recite the pledge.

That phrase will not appear in the proposal because of public backlash, reports Adam Owens for WRAL-TV.

WRAL added that the central problem with the valedictorian and salutatorian rankings, particularly in schools with a large student body, is that very small percentages can separate students at the top of their classes. Both the pledge and valedictorian policies must go to the full school board for approval.

Amy Cutler, reporting for WNCN-TV, quoted Cathy Moore, Deputy Superintendent for Academic Advancement for Wake County Schools:

“We’re putting a policy together with input from principals, deans of students around an option that would be consistent across all of our schools.”

Even if the new terminology is instituted, Wake County would still be required to publish class rank on each student’s transcript.