Purdy talks Latin graduation system

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cum laude levels more widely accepted than class ranks

The Purdy school district is moving closer toward a vote on a Latin honors system, similar to the cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude system used in Monett.

Secondary counselor Tiffany Costello reported that most post-secondary colleges and universities are giving scholarships based on ACT college entrance exam scores and a 4.0 grade point average system, assigning points for letter grades. Presently, Purdy uses an 11.0 grade point scale.

Costello observed that pass-fail classes receive no grade point averages. Students transferring into the district from home schools would not be eligible for honors, since no evaluation is available on the rigor of their previous studies.

Under Purdy’s current system for recognizing top graduates, the district has a valedictorian and salutatorian and the top 10. Colleges for the most part do not recognize achievement on that level past the top two students. The main point of a ranking is to see if a student is eligible for scholarship money.

The trap students find themselves in, Costello continued, pushes them to take advanced placement classes, regardless of their interests, in order to secure extra points and a higher class ranking. Switching away from a ranking priority would enable students to study areas of greater interest, or within their career path, rather than chasing advanced placement courses in areas they might never use.

A Latin system would more closely correlate with what universities seek in scholarship applicants and expand the number who could receive recognition. Summa cum laude students would have grade point averages of 4.0 or more, made possible by taking weighted classes. Magna cum laude students would have grade point averages from 3.75 to 3.99. Both levels are targeted by local universities such as Missouri State University, Drury and Missouri Southern State University. The cum laude status would earn grade point averages from 3.5 to 3.74.

Costello said the move would decrease pressure on students battling to earn one of the top graduating spots. Superintendent Steven Chancellor said the present system has created such anomalies as having some students earn a 4.0 grade point average but not even qualifying for the top 10 class rank.

“I see a lot of kids with ambition and drive,” Costello said. “I would hate to see someone get a 4.0 and not be recognized.”

Board President Randy Henderson, a committed advocate of having a valedictorian and salutatorian, saw no issue with competition and striving to be the best.

“What’s wrong with this country is we’re all mediocre,” Henderson said. “Nobody steps up. They’re happy with mediocrity.”

Derek Banwart, high school principal, saw value there as well. However, he noted the simple change by the district would make more students eligible for consideration.

“If there’s no class rank, colleges look at GPA and ACT. I’m almost 40 and I’m still paying on student loans.”

Elementary Principal Julie Dalton said because her daughter came out of a school using the Latin system, she was eligible for scholarship money that would not have been available on a class ranking system.

“Valedictorian and salutatorian is a title that doesn’t mean anything after high school,” Chancellor said. “We could raise the thresholds, raise summa to 4.1, which would put you in the top 5 percent to sharpen the level.”

Costello suggested that competition for high ACT scores would likely take precedence over GPA in time, making class ranking even less relevant.

Henderson agreed those arguments had merit.

Implementing the changes would take several adjustments. Chancellor noted that freshmen and sophomore requirements offered little variation. Juniors and seniors would have more choices under a Latin system, and more opportunities to take elective classes at Purdy. Board member Ken Terry said having more choices could help Purdy’s intern program, which is presently opening doors for students in both college and careers.

Students who load up on college credits while in high school place themselves in a position of having to declare a college major on their first day, when most have not fully explored what they want to do with the rest of their lives. The handbook would have to be updated.

Board members agreed to consider the issue further. They asked Costello to bring more details on how to implement such a system, which would be a year or two away.

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