August 30, 2008

Bedford Area Weighs School-Honor Choices

By Courtney Cutright [email protected] 981-3345

The school year started in Bedford city and county earlier this week, and there are already concerns about how the top 10 seniors will be chosen for graduation at each of the area's three high schools.

Assistant Superintendent Bobbi Johnson recommended the school board eliminate the top 10 designations beginning with the class of 2010 because she said there is not an "equitable" way to calculate rankings among the array of weighted course offerings.

Eliminating the top 10 is not a sure fix to the inequity because the top two honorees -- valedictorian and salutatorian -- still must be chosen.

The board did not take action on Johnson's recommendation Thursday evening but will consider it again next month.

"I would like to find out what other divisions are doing," said board member Mickey VanDerwerker, who represents Bedford. "In the meantime, this particular year's problems have to be resolved before graduation."

Changes were made last year to the policy that is used to determine the top 10. The first class affected by "the rule of 24" is the class of 2009. Under the rule, top 10 rankings are determined using the same number of courses -- 24 -- to prevent students who take extra courses from being penalized.

"We actually had students who were near the top of their class, but because of two years of band, their GPA [grade-point average] ended up being less," Johnson said.

Students in the county's Early College program, Advanced Placement courses and Southwest Virginia Governor's School all receive weighted grade points for the advanced coursework. Some parents argue the varying volumes of weighted grades among the three programs present an unfair advantage.

"I have heard different parents tell me a lot of colleges are stepping back. The 4.0 used to be the top, but now some kids are getting 4.3 -- the GPA is losing its importance," school board Chairman Gary Hostutler said.

VanDerwerker argued the number is important when applying to college.

Johnson suggested replacing the current system with designations for honors and high honors. Honors status would be given to students with a cumulative GPA between 3.5 and 3.99, and high honors would be awarded for a GPA of 4.0 or higher. The model still does not address the way of determining who the top two students in each class are.

In other school board news:

n Fred Conner, principal at Bedford Science and Technology Center, discussed the feasibility of beginning a registered nursing program. The board requested that Conner gather more information and report back with estimated costs of starting a dual-enrollment program with Central Virginia Community College.

n The board heard a report on the county's 2008 graduation rates. One hundred more students graduated from the division in 2008 than in 2005. School officials reported 75 percent of the graduates in the class of 2008 planned to pursue two- or four-year college educations.

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