Board of Education for AACPS begins discussion on abolishing class rank

By Caitlyn Freeman 

The members of the Board of Education (BOE) for Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS)  began deliberations on the school system’s grading policy during the meeting of the BOE on Wednesday, April 3rd. After discussion, the board voted to send forth a policy change, which would abolish the class rank system starting in the 2021-2022 school year, to public comment for a period of 30-days.

Wednesday’s meeting marked the first of three hearings regarding the revisions to Policy Code II.  As Jeanette Ortiz, member of the Legislative and Policy committee for AACPS, explained, Policy Code II, the school system grading policy, located on the AACPS website, was revised per request of the policy committee. The proposed versions, would remove the last sentence in section C.7. which states “Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, each high school shall annually honor graduating students who qualify for the AACPS cum laude recognition. High Schools shall annually designate a graduating valedictorian and salutatorian.”

As Ortiz mentioned, the last revisions to the policy were made on January 18th, 2017. The revisions implemented a cum laude honors system and upheld the valedictorian and salutatorian requirement.

“Under the cum laude honors system, seniors with a cumulative weighted grade-point average of 4.3 or higher (exclusive of college or dual-credit courses) will receive summa cum laude honors. Those with weighted GPAs of 4.0 to 4.294 will receive magna cum laude honors, and those with unweighted GPAs of 3.4 to 4.0 will receive cum laude honors,” the January 2017 press release read.

Several members of the board voiced concerns about the removal of the valedictorian and salutatorian system would harm the students within the school system.

When asked for a general explanation about how colleges perceive the latin honors and how the change would affect scholarship opportunities, Dr. Maureen McMahon, Deputy Superintendent for Academics and Strategic Initiatives, says that the latin honors has become more prevalent in recent years and that the elite private and public colleges in the nation are looking predominately at the top ten percent of the students in the graduating class in regards to entrance level.

She added that unlike smaller schools, the top ten percent of the class at one of the 12 AACPS high schools could, depending on class size, equal up to 50 students.

“In the last years, the notion of the number of colleges looking at ranking has gone down to around 20 percent. And that’s not a must, that’s a ‘we still consider your rank. Meaning we’re asking, but we’re not mandating,'” McMahon said. She added that in the 1990’s, number of colleges that looked at rank was 50 percent.

Dr. Maisha Gillins, Executive Director of the Office for Equity and Accelerated Student Achievement, wanted to speak from a perspective of the impact class rank has on the mental health of students. She quoted literature that she found through her research that says eliminating class rank would help remove stress from students lives and promote colleges to look at the whole student.

“So there’s something to say about the pressure that the current system, the ranking system, places on students, so I do speak from that perspective of mental health,” Gillins said.

Dr. George Arlotto, Superintendent for AACPS, mentioned that when a student’s transcript is sent to a college or university, included is a profile of the high school they attended. Arlotto emphasized that the school profile is important for colleges and universities as it helps said college or university analyze and understand the information on a students transcript.

Eric Grannon, member of the BOE, voiced his concerns about the proposed revision by explaining the copious amount of public comment the board received in 2017 while deliberating on the policy. He then asked why the policy committee didn’t consider options that would maintain the valedictorian and salutatorian system but would remove the ranking system.

Ortiz explained that the revisions came directly from the policy committee and not from Dr. George Arlotto, superintendent for AACPS.

In regards to Grannon’s inquiries, Josie Urrea, Student Member of the Board (SMOB) and Vice President of the BOE, explained that when the policy was brought up to the policy committee she asked for the elimination of class rank to be written.

She said that there are other options that could be considered and went on to explain that Prince Georges County Public Schools (PGCPS), keeps the class ranks of students unknown until their senior year when then, on a day unknown to Urrea, the top two students are notified of their valedictorian and salutatorian status.

“I think it’s an archaic way of trying to show students’ success,” Urrea said in a previous interview with The Pulse in regard to why she disagrees with class rank.

“It sounds like we can get the best of both worlds,” Grannon said in regards to Urrea’s explanation of the PGCPS procedures.

Arlotto explained to the members of the board that without class rank, there couldn’t be a valedictorian and salutatorian.

Grannon motioned to keep the last sentence in the policy, which would result in abstaining from sending the policy to 30-day public comment because there would technically be no change.

Candace C.W. Antwine supported Grannon’s motion and argued that class rank encourages students.

After more debate between members of the BOE about the posed amendment, the board voted 3-5 and Grannon’s motion failed, sending the revised version of Policy Code II to public comment for a period of 30-days.