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Valedictorian/salutatorian system could change in Kaneland School District 302

Kaneland High School is in the process of changing the way it recognizes the academic success of its graduating students.

A proposal was made during the Kaneland School District 302 Board meeting Nov. 13 for a Latin honors designation system to replace the current valedictorian/salutatorian system, beginning with the incoming freshmen class next fall, which would be the Class of 2022.

A graduation committee consisting of community members, department chairs, staff, students and others convened and ultimately made the proposal.

The committee determined that the new system will acknowledge academics more explicitly; encourage more students to push themselves to achieve; create a fixed target for students to pursue; allow students more flexibility when choosing their courses; and simplify the process of identifying students and eliminating potential errors.

Michael Rice, director of educational services for grades six through 12 for District 302, explained the difference between the two structures, including that valedictorian/salutatorian is based on the highest grade-point average, while the Latin honor system is based on predetermined GPA cut scores.

“The valedictorian/salutatorian awards the students with the highest GPAs,” he said. “And one of the things that’s a knock against the system is it’s kind of a moving target because you don’t know what the GPAs are going to be until the kids start taking courses ... .”

Rice explained that while the valedictorian/salutatorian honors the top two highest performing students in the graduating class, the new system would honor the top 10 to 20 percent of students.

The Latin system includes Summa Cum Laude (those with a 4.1 GPA or higher), Magna Cum Laude (4.0 to 4.9 GPA) and Cum Laude (3.9 to 3.99 GPA).

“It’s far more of a range of celebration, instead of just those top two GPAs,” Rice explained. “Both are still a competition, but Latin is a bit more of an internal competition, while valedictorian/salutatorian is more external with students in your class. It’s a moving target, while Latin is a fixed one.”

Board member Aaron Lawler questioned whether the new system is designed to eliminate competition, since he believes the new system is still going to be pretty competitive.

“I guess if you’re No. 10 in your class you might say that there’s no chance to make it to No. 1, so why keep bothering,” he said. “But now the seventh place trophy people will still get a trophy, and this isn’t a trophy just for participating, it’s for achieving. So it’s giving out the bronze rather than just the gold and silver medals.”

Board President Teresa Witt acknowledged that there are students who look at the system as a game and inevitably will be enticed by potential shortcuts to win it.

“There have been recent years where maybe somebody got that top honor but hadn’t taken as rigorous of a course load,” she said. “So, my question is, why aren’t we closing the mathematical loopholes? Now we’re spreading this competition to the Top 10 percent, which is clamoring for that honor.”

Witt said her biggest fear is the potential watering down of academic honors, noting the district needs to avoid that at all costs.

“We want to make sure it pushes them to work harder for their goals,” she said. “I feel we could risk grade inflation, which we’ve had in the past, and there’s some loophole closing that just has to be done.”

The Batavia, Geneva, Huntley and St. Charles school districts utilize the Latin honors system, while Burlington Central, DeKalb, Sycamore and Yorkville are still using the valedictorian/salutatorian system. Rice did note that Burlington Central and Sycamore are considering changing to Latin.

The board will discuss this matter further at the next meeting Nov. 27.

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