Change in valedictorian rules stirs district debate
New policy would eliminate the SAT score, except to break a tie, in computing ranking among students
By Craig Shultz
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Plans by the Hemet school district to change the way it chooses valedictorians and salutatorians have been greeted with some resistance.
The district uses a formula that combines grade-point average and SAT scores to recognize the top two graduating seniors at each school, but after four of the six valedictorians had a lower GPA than the salutatorian in the Class of 2017, there was a call for a change.
The new policy would eliminate the SAT score, except to break a tie, and would be based on a student’s best 28 grades during the first seven semesters of high school.
With the current policy, a student’s GPA can be lower if he does not take Advanced Placement classes, which are graded on a five-point scale instead of four points for a standard class. So a student who chooses an elective, such as band or student government, could have a lower GPA than one who takes all advanced classes, even if they both get straight A’s.
The change would take effect for the Class of 2019.
Valedictorian honors are typically bestowed on a student having the highest academic achievements of the class. The salutatorian is the second-highest achiever.
Different districts use different methods to choose such students. Some use grade-point average alone and others will have multiple honorees, recognizing all students who had a 4.0 or better GPA.
The designations are mostly ceremonial and often do not help determine where a student is accepted to college.
Things came to a head at Hemet High, where Michael McGivney was valedictorian of the Class of 2017 with a GPA of 4.44 and SAT score of 1550. Salutatorian Anusha Koka had a higher GPA at 4.52, but her SAT score was 1460.
Pat McGivney, Michael’s mother, told the school board on Tuesday that the policy is fine the way it is. “It didn’t need to be changed,” she said. “It wasn’t broken.”
Lakshman Koka, Anusha’s father, spoke in favor of the change. “My thing is keeping things fair and keeping an even playing field,” he said. “We cannot say a test of four to six hours is 400 to 600 times greater than the four years of our teachers teaching and testing.”
The current policy was set in 2003 and revised in 2006 after students frequently found ways to manipulate their grade-point average, such as taking online courses or college classes during the summer to boost their GPA.
Longtime Hemet High teacher Kristin DeWit said that since the current policy was enacted, the top student has been named valedictorian each year.
“Before, you could game the system, manipulate your GPA,” she told the board. “Eliminating the SAT punishes well-rounded students.”
Dewit said she and others who teach honors classes prefer it the way it is.
The board ultimately decided to study the issue some more and bring it back for more discussion at its next meeting Sept. 5.
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