Blount County Schools will no longer name a valedictorian and salutatorian at its high schools after the Class of 2021.
Instead, the district will use the Latin system of honors for students with high GPAs, under a policy update the Blount County Board of Education approved during its meeting last week.
Heritage and William Blount high schools will begin recognizing graduates with the cum laude system starting with the Class of 2020.
Seniors with a grade-point average of 4.35 and higher will graduate with highest honors, summa cum laude. Those with GPAs of 4.175 to 4.34 will graduate with high honors, magna cum laude. And seniors with a GPA of 3.95 to 4.174 will graduate with honors, cum laude.
For the Class of 2022 and beyond, BCS will use only the Latin system and not rank students numerically.
“Right now we do not celebrate the top 10 percent,” Director Rob Britt said during a Policy Committee meeting last month while discussing the proposal.
Had the new system been in place over the past three years, an average of 46 students would have graduated with honors at each high school.
Maryville City Schools decided in 2017 to stop naming valedictorians and salutatorians after the Class of 2019, going to a Latin system that requires a GPA of 4.45 or higher to graduate with highest honors and at least 4.25 for high honors. A 3.95 GPA also will qualify Maryville High School students to graduate with honors.
Alcoa High School quit naming a valedictorian and salutatorian with its Class of 2014, instead honoring Senior Scholars, determined by both GPA and students’ scores on the ACT exam used for college admissions.
The move is part of a nationwide trend. Today, nearly 27 percent of colleges and universities say class rank is of no importance in their admissions decisions, and 36 percent say it’s of little importance, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
During last month’s BCS Policy Committee meeting, Jennifer Moore, supervisor of secondary education, outlined some of the problems with the current system, including an atmosphere that can become “toxically competitive.”
“They focus overly on grades rather than learning,” Moore said, and students may not take classes that would interest them because of the impact on their class ranking.
She gave an example of a high-achieving student who was passionate about music but taking band for four years made it mathematically impossible for that student to become valedictorian or salutatorian.
Over the past several years, the top five students were separated by only hundredths of a point, she said, and the high level of competition for the two tops spots can have social and emotional effects as well.
With the Latin system, she said, “student recognition is not based on others losing.”
For college admissions purposes, Moore said, the district will continue to tell seniors which “decile” they are in — such as the top 10 percent — not their numerical rank.
The high schools individually will decide which seniors speak at graduation ceremonies.
Employee internet policy
Other policy updates the school board approved at its March meeting include:
• “Highly” encouraging employees not to identify themselves as BCS employees on personal social networking sites. The policy calls it a security risk, and during the policy meeting, district officials pointed to a problem of people posting incorrect information online and others assuming that BCS is the source.
• Adding electronic/battery operated devices and vapor products to the Tobacco-Free Schools policy.
• Granting three quality points to students who take Advanced Placement courses but don’t take the AP exam, the same benefit given for honors courses. Previously BCS awarded five points, but the state uniform grading policy now bars that for students who don’t take the exam.