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Schools might alter policies on grad honors

New standards could cut number of valedictorians
by: Jaime Valdez, Hanna Lindquist and her older brother Andrew, share a moment before Beaverton High School’s graduation. Andrew, who has Down syndrome, graduated with his sister.

Beaverton School District principals could decide this summer if they will continue on the same course with a valedictorian selection process that varies greatly from school to school.

For the first year, valedictorian numbers throughout the district are highly disproportionate due to a new weighted grading process.

What that means is that among the graduating seniors, 75 were named as valedictorians at Westview High School with 50 receiving the same designation at Sunset. While Beaverton High had 10 valedictorians, Southridge and Aloha high schools had one.

Rick Miller, executive administrator for school support, said there is no policy or administrative regulation suggesting guidelines for who should be named a valedictorian.

As a result, each school can determine what the requirements will be. At Westview, it's all students with a 4.0 grade point average.

Meanwhile, what has changed this year, is the way grades are figured out.

'This is the first year our seniors have been under a weighted policy,' said Miller.

The weighted policy assigns higher values to letter grades received by students who take the tougher International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement classes.

Matt Coleman, principal at Westview High School, said that means an 'A' on an Advanced Placement literature class is worth 5 points, whereas a similar grade in a standard senior English class is worth only 4.

'The thing is we had kids who took challenging curriculum and did really, really well,' Coleman said of the large number of valedictorians at his school.

If the weighted system wasn't in place there probably would be only 11 vals, he said.

Coleman said he's aware of the controversy regarding the process, saying he understands the tradition of selecting only one or several valedictorians. But he sees what could happen to high-achieving students if they take classes only to get high grades.

'What I don't want is kids not challenging themselves because they want to protect their GPA,' said Coleman.

Still, Coleman said that if a change were implemented he would want some time before the standards are put into place so that students already planning to be valedictorians could still do so.

High standards

While many students take rigorous courses in an effort to receive a Southridge Scholar designation at that school, ultimately only one valedictorian is selected.

Southridge Principal Amy Gordon said she would like to see a new policy that's consistent across the board.

'I think we really want to make sure the standard we set is high,' said Gordon.

Miller said high school principals met in November to decide if a valedictorian process should be standardized.

'They determined they needed a year to see what the impact of this would be,' said Miller, noting that the principals will revisit the matter to see if changes should be made.

'The idea is, can we address this as a districtwide standard and not only can we, what would that standard look like?' said Miller. 'The idea is they want to have a standard.'