Wake Ed

Durham schools may keep valedictorians and use Latin honors

Valedictorian will be sad to see current honor system eliminated

Emma Goodwin, 18, valedictorian of the Wake Young Women's Leadership Academy in Raleigh, talks about the Wake County school system potentially dropping valedictorians and salutatorians in favor of using the Latin honors system.
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Emma Goodwin, 18, valedictorian of the Wake Young Women's Leadership Academy in Raleigh, talks about the Wake County school system potentially dropping valedictorians and salutatorians in favor of using the Latin honors system.

The Durham Public School System could take a compromise approach on recognizing top-performing high school seniors that the Wake County school system has opted not to follow.

The Durham school board is scheduled to consider Thursday a proposal from staff to adopt the Latin honors systems at high schools while still continuing to name valedictorians and salutatorians. In contrast, Wake could give final approval Tuesday to a policy that would pair adoption of the Latin honors system with preventing principals from naming valedictorians and salutatorians.

Currently, most high schools in Wake and Durham follow the long-standing tradition of selecting valedictorians and salutatorians – titles which go to the two seniors with the highest grade-point averages.

Under Wake’s policy, which got initial approval May 17, high school principals would no longer be allowed to named valedictorians and salutatorians after 2018.

Starting in 2019, high schools would begin recognizing seniors with a weighted GPA of 4.25 or higher with the distinction of summa cum laude. Seniors with a weighted GPA of 4.0 to 4.249 would receive the distinction of magna cum laude.

Seniors with a weighted GPA of 3.75 to 3.99 could receive the designation of cum laude.

Some parents, students and community members have asked Wake to keep the valedictorian and salutatorian recognition after the switch to the Latin honors system.

“They should in general recognize honors students overall,” said Taylor Barr, 17, valedictorian of the East Wake School of Integrated Technology. “Students who work hard deserve recognition. But students who’ve worked really hard deserve a little more recognition.”

Michael Yarbrough, a Wake schools spokesman, has said staff rejected the use of both systems because the Latin honors system is a more inclusive way to recognize students.

“It’s a better way of recognizing students than pitting students against each other by thousandths of a decimal point,” Yarbrough said.

Wake school board Chairman Tom Benton has also said the board is not considering using both systems. He has said keeping the titles would perpetuate the practice in which students engage in “unhealthy competition” of focusing on taking advanced courses to boost their GPA instead of on courses that could benefit them in their future course of study.

Even if the change is approved, state law will still require Wake to list each student’s class rank on high school transcripts.

In contrast, the Durham staff proposal would call for simultaneously using both systems beginning with the Class of 2017. In this approach, schools would recognize all seniors who achieved one of the new Latin honors titles while also including in graduation programs the names of the valedictorian and salutatorian.

Durham school officials recommend using the same GPA cutoff as Wake for the Latin honors system. Staff isn’t recommending a system that would have instead based the Latin honors tiles on whether seniors ranked within the top 5 percent, 10 percent or 15 percent of their school class.

One of the reasons Durham school officials are recommending adoption of the Latin honors system is because the state is now using a 10-point grading scale. Beginning this school year, an A is now a 90 to 100. It used to be that an A equaled 93 to 100.

The Durham school board could vote to approve the change as soon as today’s work session.

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