Class rank dismissed

Class rank dismissed

New cum laude system approved in Smithfield

SMITHFIELD – Smithfield High School Principal Dan Kelley said listings of top students will disappear after the School Committee approved dismissing the grade point average ranking system in favor of the Latin cum laude system.

Courses will be weighted beginning in 2023 to award students who take challenging courses, such as college prep, honors, advanced placement and early enrollment program, with more credit toward their grade point average.

The Class Rank Committee decided that a college prep course will be worth one credit, honors worth 1.05 credits and AP and EEP receiving 1.10 credits. The current system does not weigh courses, but for colleges requesting weighted ranking, AP and EEP received 1.08 credits.

School Committee Chairwoman Rose Marie Cipriano said she did not support ranking of AP and EEP courses equivalently, and felt that AP should be distinguished from EEP with a slightly higher weight.

Kelley disagreed, saying the high school has a strong 30-year history of offering EEP courses to students. He said 60 percent of SHS students attend a Rhode Island college or university, and he backs the integrity of SHS EEP courses.

The committee voted 4-1 to accept the new ranking system, with Cipriano against. She said the one modification to give more respect to AP courses would have changed her mind.

Graduating seniors will receive colored cords to distinguish between academic honors in the new system, including gold for summa cum laude, silver for magna cum laude and white for cum laude.

Kelley read comments from past valedictorians and salutatorians on their high rank during a presentation of the ranking system to the School Committee on Monday.

One spoke of the desire to lower their standards for one day to catch their breath, another about how badly they wanted to leave behind the perfectionist from high school and be a typical student, and another spoke of the regret felt after chasing rank throughout high school instead of discovering a passion or developing his character.

“The myth is that SHS is eliminating competition. But we’re shifting from a me versus you to everyone is trying to achieve that gold standard,” Kelley said.

Kelley and other members of the Class Rank Committee were tasked with taking a look at the current ranking system for areas of improvements to comply with 2017-2018 district strategic plan objects.

He said the changes were well-considered, and the committee decided it would rather see a system where students strive to be their best rather than competing with each other for a high rank.

The current grading system is flawed and full of inconsistencies, including poor grading practices, extra credit, retake offerings, and participation points all creating an uneven playing field, said Kelley.

He said an unintended consequence to that was a “point-hungry” student who is hyper-focused on grades and rank, causing stress, which can lead to mental health problems.

“I don’t have a lot of data but I heard about a lot of students turning to drugs and alcohol to cope with stress,” Kelley said.

The new system will allow the school to recognize more students, emphasize growth, and decrease unhealthy academic competition, the principal said.

More students will be recognized for higher honors than the customary honoring of the top 10 students, Kelley said. And, the valedictorian and salutatorian do not have to give a speech at graduation. Instead, students receiving summa cum laude can opt to write a speech to be judged and selected for graduation.

In other business, the committee decided to hold off on administrative and other non-union salary increases until the next meeting in August. Cipriano said that union secretarial positions, such as the superintendent and assistant superintendent’s administrative assistants or the bookkeeper, require a 2.5 percent increase.

The superintendent’s salary increase was discussed in executive session, and will be voted on during the next meeting on Aug. 5.