September 5, 2008

Baldwin-Whitehall Adjusts Class Rankings, Honors

By Laura Van Wert

Baldwin High School students choosing between a studio art class and study hall may now choose the elective without fear of what it will do to his or her Quality Point Average.

At least that's one of the main reasons Baldwin-Whitehall School District eliminated its class rank system and the graduation valedictorian and salutatorian honors.

"We want students to take full opportunity of all courses," said Dr. John Wilkinson, assistant superintendent of secondary education. "We thought it would just be better for the kids."

The school district decided the class ranking system was more harmful than helpful because the students -- confronted with pressure to covet the top academic positions -- would choose study halls before electives because doing so would place them tenths, hundredths and sometimes thousands of a QPA point above rivals.

The school board passed the policy in June 2007 and has since taken slow but definite steps away from the traditional graduation ceremony and class ranking, most recently by changing to a 10-point grading scale.

Class rankings hurt more than just the third or fourth students in the class, who often don't get recognition of the valedictorian or salutatorian, said Dr. Todd Keruskin, Baldwin High School principal. Those that rank in the 20s or 30s are really hurt, too.

These student may meet all requirements for scholarships or grants, but fail to land them because of class rank.

"We want our kids to have an edge," Keruskin said. "We want them to get into the college of their choice."

The class of 2009 will be the last to have a valedictorian and salutatorian, although neither student will give a speech. Keri Hartman, the 2008 valedictorian, was the first not to deliver a speech at commencements.

Instead the June 12 commencement kept the top two positions, but also highlighted 30 "distinguished graduates," or those students who earned a 4.2 or above Quality Point Average. Each received a medal and an asterisk next to his or her name in the program.

Starting with the class of 2009, the distinguished graduates will determine who will speak at the commencement ceremony.

First, the district will present the distinguished grads with a theme to write about. From there, a panel of students and teachers will analyze the entries, and choose one or two to join the student council and class presidents at the graduation lectern.

"We're not the only school doing this," Wilkinson said. Both Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair school districts eliminated valedictorians and salutatorians within the past few years.

"I really like it this way," Keruskin said. "It's difficult because you have so many kids doing so well."

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