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PLHS Class of 2017 will be last with valedictorian, salutatorian

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Beginning with next year's freshman class, Pequot Lakes High School will no longer publish class rank on student transcripts.

The school board approved these changes to the high school handbook at its Monday, June 16, meeting, along with others related to honors recognition and grading.

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Superintendent Chris Lindholm said the move will also eliminate naming valedictorians and salutatorians of graduating classes. The last class at the school that will have these students identified at graduation will be the class of 2017.

"When you don't do class rank, then you don't necessarily identify a number one or number two," he said by phone June 17. "They go together, those two decisions."

At the meeting, Lindholm noted that by choosing not to name valedictorians and salutatorians, the district would no longer be "honoring one kind of intelligence versus other kinds of intelligence."

Pequot Lakes adds itself to a growing list of school districts that have moved away from ranking students. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, more than half of all high schools in the country no longer report student rankings. Brainerd High School's board approved a similar change last June and will no longer rank students beginning next school year. Pine-River Backus High School does not have any plans to eliminate class rankings for its students at this time.

So what are the reasons behind removing class rank from the equation?

Lindholm said it stems from a re-examination of the meaning behind grades in classrooms.

"We're getting more and more specific about the purpose behind what grades are even all about," he said.

Grades, he said, are not supposed to be about sorting and ranking kids.

"Especially when you have a high-performing group like we do in Pequot, where you could have an A-minus GPA (grade point average) and actually be in the 80th percentile or the 70th percentile," he said. "We don't want kids who have A-minus GPAs to not feel successful because they happen to be 30th in the class."

The trend in eliminating class rank began in small private and competitive high schools, according to an article on the College Board's website.

"They feel it penalizes many excellent students who are squeezed out of the top 10 percent of the class and then overlooked by elite colleges," the article states.

Many colleges and universities have responded by deprioritizing class rank when assessing students for acceptance. Grades in college preparatory courses, scores on standardized admission tests (like the ACTs and SATs) and grades in all courses are typically the most significant factors in admission decisions, according to the College Board.

"That sorting doesn't do any good for a college who's trying to figure out who to accept and who not to accept," Lindholm said. "All it does it give misperception and misinformation about how great a kid really is, how hard some of our kids work and how successful they are."

Students will still have the option of their class rank listed on their transcript, but they must request it.

Despite the growing trend toward eliminating class rank, there are arguments for retaining the system. In both California and Texas, state law requires the use of class rank in college admissions to increase access and diversity. The University of Texas automatically admits enough students to fill 75 percent of available Texas resident spaces. For the fall of 2015, this equates to the top 7 percent of any graduating class in the state.

According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the number of different high schools within the state of Texas sending students to colleges has risen dramatically as a result.

"Previously, students from low-performing, high-poverty, mostly urban school had difficulty gaining admission to competitive universities. It appears that using class rank as one factor for admission to competitive colleges does increase diversity," the association's position statement reads.

Pequot Lakes will continue to recognize students who have achieved high GPAs. Instead of "Honors" and "High Honors," however, graduates will now be identified as "Cum Laude" and "Summa Cum Laude," modeled after the Latin honors system used by colleges and universities.

Students earning a cumulative 3.75 GPA or higher will earn summa cum laude and those earning 3.5 or higher, cum laude. This change will go into effect with next year's graduating class.

Changes to the way grades are weighted were also approved by the board. Weighted GPAs will be earned in recognized college courses, meaning classes in which students also receive college credit. This means if a student earns an A in a college-level course, this will equate to a weighted GPA of 4.33. Honors courses will no longer be weighted.

Lindholm said all of these changes are a "starting point of a conversation that needs a lot of time and a good, hard look."

"The full topic of grading needs to be discussed," he said. "How we grade, how we even define what a grade is."

Another significant change to the handbook is an adjustment to arrival and dismissal times to accommodate for the addition of a seventh period in the school day. The bullying and harassment form available to students to report incidents was also attached.

In the activities handbook, the board approved additions to bylaws on mood-altering chemicals that prohibits the use of "a device that delivers nicotine or other chemicals, e.g. e-cigarettes" and "chemicals to alter the central nervous system, e.g. synthetic drugs, glue, bath salts, etc."

A paragraph was added to the parental responsibilities section, indicating that if a parent does not follow conflict resolution procedures outlined in the handbook, they may be subject to "discipline, including suspension from attending games/meets."

The policy on conflict resolution does not allow a conflict to be addressed during or immediately following an activity, instead instructing involved parties to set up a meeting the following workday.

An addition to business policies in the activities and coaching manual outlines when coaches will be paid. Lower level coaches will receive payment upon completion of a post-season checkout. Head coaches will be paid once everyone on their staff has completed a checkout, and the athletics director will receive pay once all coaches for that season have completed checkout.

Several minor changes were also made to the Eagle View Elementary School, Middle School and Kid Konnection handbooks, mainly for clarity and factual accuracy purposes.

Chelsey Perkins can be reached at chelsey.perkins@pineandlakes.com. Follow her at facebook.com/PEJChelsey and on Twitter @PEJ_Chelsey.

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Chelsey Perkins
Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her Bachelor's degree in professional journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Perkins has interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before joining the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.
(218) 855-5874
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