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Schools' new valedictorian formula unfair, critics say

Hemet high schools are poised to name valedictorians in the next few days. And for the first time, the top students are being selected through a policy adopted a year and a half ago.

There are concerns that the new formula favors kids who take many advanced courses and few electives, penalizing “well-rounded” students who engage in sports, the arts or career development in addition to their core studies.

“As a parent, I’m outraged,” said Christi Hiner, who says her junior son would have been a valedictorian candidate under the old system but isn’t now. “This is so unfair.”

Hemet School Board Member Stacey Bailey, a retired West Valley High School theater teacher, disagreed, saying the new formula is more fair than the old one was.

Hemet Unified School District Superintendent Christi Barrett said the 2019 valedictorians who will be revealed shortly are well-rounded students. She said some are athletes, some are drama students and some are in career technical- education programs.

The honor of valedictorian is annually bestowed on the highest-achieving student in a graduating class. The second-highest achiever is named salutatorian.

There has often been disagreement in Hemet over how those No. 1 and No. 2 students should be chosen. Criticism of the old policy prompted formation of a task force, and led to a 6-1 decision in September 2017 to change the formula and roll it out in 2019.

The district formerly relied on a formula that combined grade-point average with Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score. The new policy relies strictly on grade-point average; SAT comes into play only to break ties.

As for the grade-point average, it is based on one’s best 28 grades from his or her first seven semesters, through the fall of senior year. Critics object to the 28 grades, saying it is an arbitrary number easily manipulated by students seeking to maximize grade point average by taking advanced classes that count for 5 points instead of standard classes that count for 4, if they get A’s.

Bailey said the idea was to provide students flexibility to concentrate their most rigorous coursework in four of six classes, and to use the other periods for electives such as band or theater that count for 4 points.

“We said, ‘You decide which 28 you want us to look at to determine your GPA,’” Bailey said.

The problem, said Kristin DeWit, who teaches advanced calculus and coaches girls tennis at Hemet High School, is students can manipulate the system. To push one’s grade-point average as high as possible, students fill all six periods in junior and senior years with advanced 5-point courses, she said. And, in doing so, some of those grades cancel out grades they earned in earlier years in courses that count for 4 points.

DeWit was one of a half dozen people to address the school board Feb. 5, on the matter, which was on the agenda for discussion but not action.

Following the discussion, the board indicated it didn’t want to bring the policy back later for reconsideration.

Pat McGivney, mother of 2017 valedictorian Michael McGivney who won under the old formula, said she was “blown away” by the refusal to take another look.

Barrett, the superintendent, defended the new formula. She said it does give students “the opportunity to be well-rounded” and that will be seen in the new valedictorians.

In any event, Hiner said the policy shouldn’t be applied to senior, junior and sophomore students because they committed to at least one year’s worth of coursework — and in her son’s case, two years — before the formula was changed.

“It’s wrong, because they changed the rules in the middle of the game,” she said.

Hiner said her son, Cory, is penalized because he pursued engineering courses which, though tough, qualify for 4 points. Cory also addressed the board.

“I’m not here to amend this policy nor to condemn those who have implemented it, neither to say that I should be the valedictorian,” Cory said. “But rather to stand up for the chance for everyone to be assessed fairly.”

Cory, most valuable runner on Hemet High’s crossc ountry team last fall, wrote a letter to the board in December asking for a delay in implementing the policy.

Bailey, the former theater teacher who sits on the board, said the policy will go forward.

“We’re going to give this a chance to play out and see what happens,” she said.

Bailey said the task force worked for months on it.

“They were thoughtful. They were inclusive. They reached out to every school,” she said. “And I’m not a big throw-the-babyout- with-the-bath-water kind of gal. To throw all of that research out without giving it one chance seems hasty to me.” Source: The Press Enterprise, February 12, 2019
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