Class rank, valedictorians and salutatorians are all on the way out at Windsor High School.
In their place, for measuring and recognizing academic achievement, will be the Latin cum laude (“with honors”) system used by most American colleges and universities and an increasing number of high schools.
The Windsor C-1 Board of Education voted 4-0 on March 27 to scrap class rank as an academic yardstick, fully effective with the graduating class of 2023 – the current eighth-graders at Windsor Middle School.
The new system will phase in over the next four years, running parallel with the class rank calculation, for graduating classes from 2019 through 2022. The most noticeable effect of the change will be the expansion of student recognition, for those earning a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
Students with a GPA of 3.0 to 3.49 will earn the cum laude designation. Those between 3.5 and 3.99 will get magna cum laude honors and students with a 4.0 or higher will receive summa cum laude recognition.
Windsor High Principal Jason Naucke earned honors for persistence from the school board, whose members joked about him selling the idea with lengthy presentations at both the January and February board meetings.
“Try to get done before midnight, OK?” said a smiling board president Tim McCraw as he looked at Naucke, who was prepared to answer any questions. None came and the vote was unanimous, although board members Tom Krupp, Steve Meinberg and Dan Shaul were absent.
Chris Casey, the newest member of the board after replacing Margie Passmore last October, said Naucke did his homework.
“(This) is a way for our district to recognize additional students who have excelled academically during their high school careers,” Casey said. “Mr. Naucke did an outstanding job of researching the Latin system and the benefits that it would provide our students, (and that) gave the board the ability to make an informed and educated decision.”
Naucke, who became principal at Windsor High in 2016, said the move taps into a trend in secondary education.
“There’s a lot of schools that have gone away from valedictorian and salutatorian (designations), mainly because they want to try to recognize a broader spectrum of students,” he said. “(The Latin system) puts the focus on learning instead of just trying to attain a rank. It increases the number of students who are recognized for academic achievement, and different types of academic achievement as well. And it improves the social well-being of students.”
County high schools already using the Latin system include Festus, Fox, Jefferson, Northwest and Seckman. It’s also in widespread use across the St. Louis area, including the eight high schools in the Parkway and Rockwood districts as well as Clayton, Kirkwood, Ladue, Lindbergh and Webster Groves and private schools Priory, St. Louis University High and Westminster Christian Academy.
“I can tell you that just in the principals’ meetings that I attend on a monthly basis with Jefferson County high school principals, most of them are considering this if they haven’t moved to it already,” Naucke told the board.
“Most of these (Latin system) schools don’t rank students at all anymore,” he said. “My daughter goes to Parkway South and they don’t rank at all.”
Colleges are helping drive this trend, he added, with the goal of improving assessment of students’ readiness for college.
“(Colleges) want to look at what courses you’re taking and how you’re doing in those courses,” he said. “That’s the No. 1 factor they look at. Then they look at the curriculum, your entire course load.”
Naucke cited research from the National Association for College Admission Counseling that ranked factors in order of importance to admissions counselors. “Grades in college prep courses” ranked No. 1, followed by “strength of curriculum” and test scores. Class rank was well down the list at No. 8.
“Looking at how you did in specific classes gives (colleges) more information than a number,” he said. “That number can’t necessarily tell them what kind of course load you took and how that’s going to prepare you for success in their school.”
In making college visits with his daughter, Naucke said, the colleges told them they want to evaluate academic performance with such measurements as core GPA.
“What they consider your core GPA (is) what you did in your four core classes – English, math, science and social studies classes – and then they would also look at your foreign language (classes).”
The new system also will eliminate what can turn into a heated competition for valedictorian and salutatorian, whereby students load up on honors classes, also known as “dual credit” or Advanced Placement classes, for a higher “weighted” GPA. Such classes enable students to attain GPAs above 4.0.
“We have a lot of students who will take four years of band; band is not an honors course,” Naucke said. “So every time you take band, you are basically giving up the ability to take an honors course to get a 5.0 (grade of A). If that’s something that you want to continue on to do, it really comes to the point where it becomes mathematically impossible for you to (become) the valedictorian or salutatorian.”
The new system, which Naucke said will recognize “a substantial amount” of students who attain 3.0 or higher, also will highlight the academic achievement of students pursuing a career or technical education rather than a four-year college degree.
“What this would allow us to do is to recognize more students for the work they put in,” he said. “There’s many different tracks that students can take, such as the Jefferson College Area Technical School.”
Under the class rank system, he said, students off the college track “will never have the opportunity to get recognized.”
Naucke added that speakers could audition to deliver speeches at the graduation ceremony, replacing the traditional valedictorian and salutatorian addresses.