Northampton Press

Saturday, January 20, 2018

School board hears proposal for class rank changes

Wednesday, December 20, 2017 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Local News

New plan would eliminate recognition of valedictorian, salutatorian

Changes in class rank and graduation requirements are proposed for Northampton Area High School.

If codified by the Northampton Area School District policy committee and approved by the NASD Board of Education, students in the incoming ninth-grade class would be affected, beginning with the 2018-19 school year. Students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades, as of the 2018-19 school year, would not be affected.

“This is not impacting any students now in high school,” said NAHS Principal Robert Steckel during a one-hour presentation at the Dec. 18 school board meeting.

Presenting to the school board, in addition to Steckel, from NAHS were Chris Erdo, science teacher; Doug Fehnel, physical education teacher and parent; Elizabeth Fehnel, senior and Fehnel’s daughter; Jessica Pretopapa, English teacher; Jason Winchenbach, guidance counselor; and Kim Mooney, assistant principal.

The class rank and graduation requirements committee, during the 2016-17 school year, contacted officials at other schools. During the 2017-18 school year, teachers, administrators and students at NAHS and parents, as well as those at the Bethlehem Area Vocational-Technical School, were surveyed.

During the school board presentation, pros and cons of the NAHS class rank and graduation requirements were outlined, including:

Class rank causes stress and unnecessary competition among students.

There is little variance among the accomplishments of the top 5 percent of recent NAHS graduating classes.

Students make course selections based on class rank and inclusion in the honors and advanced focus area rather than interest or career pathway.

Calculation of Grade Point Average-Work In Progress (GPA-WIP) results in quarterly competition, jockeying for class rank and incorrect recognition of students.

Colleges place less impact on class rank than is traditionally perceived.

About 50 percent of high schools in the United States do not report class rank.

Among school districts that do not report class rank is New Hope-Solebury High School, Bucks County, the No. 2-ranked district in Pennsylvania, according to US News & World Report.

In the Lehigh Valley, among high schools that don’t report class rank, Emmaus High School recognizes students with a 3.8 GPA and higher, and Parkland High School recognizes the top 3 percent. Parkland eliminated reporting class rank in 2008. Southern Lehigh High School will stop reporting class rank beginning with the class of 2019.

Beginning with the NAHS Class of 2022, the proposal would:

Eliminate the public reporting of individual class rank.

Report class rank decile range after the sixth, seventh and eighth semesters of a student’s high school career to colleges that request class rank as well as scholarship organizations. Class rank would be determined following finalizing of senior grades.

Eliminate the recognition of valedictorian and salutatorian. An application and audition process for selecting a senior speaker at graduation would be developed. Students must be in the top 5 percent to be considered.

The traditional academic focus and career and technical focus would require 24 credits. The third track, the honors and advanced focus area, would be eliminated.

Among school board directors asking questions about the proposal were Dr. Michael Baird, Robert Mentzell, Chuck Longacre, Vice President Chuck Frantz and President David Gogel.

“I have no problem doing away with class rank,” Baird said.

The new policy will be reviewed by the district policy committee in January 2018, with a school board vote on the policy in January or February 2018.

“I think it will be beneficial, and I think a lot of the students realize that,” Elizabeth Fehnel said.

Meetings with students and parents are to be held in spring 2018. Students and parents with questions should contact the student’s guidance counselor. Updated information is to be available on the district website, nasdschools.org.

“The ultimate goal is to provide our students with the best educational opportunities,” NASD Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kovalchik said after the Dec. 18 meeting.