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Board reviews student rankings


In the wake of an emotional dispute over who earned the academic top spot at Severna Park High School this year, a proposed grading policy for county schools would set specific guidelines to determine the valedictorian and salutatorian at high schools.

County school board members were at the center of the conflict in June that pitted two straight-A graduating seniors against each other in pursuit of the No. 1 position. Concerned that no systemwide written guidelines exist to define how the first- and second-place academic rankings should be determined, board members asked school officials to look into the issue.

The resulting proposal leaves little doubt about how to calculate the No. 1 and 2 spots in a high school graduating class - from which courses can be used to determine grade point averages to how far past the decimal point GPAs must be calculated.

In the works since last fall, the proposed grading policy also includes detailed guidelines or regulations that address homework, reporting student performance to parents and maintenance of student academic records.

The proposal will be presented to the board at its meeting Wednesday.

Although the county school system has an existing grading policy, it is written in a general way, said Nancy M. Mann, assistant superintendent of instruction.

She said more detailed regulations had not been put in place before because "they were just not required."

"But we wanted to make it clear that the school system and the superintendent felt the need to develop them," Mann said.

Over the next year, parent groups, students, teachers and administrators will have opportunities to comment on and make suggestions to the proposed policy - which addresses elementary, middle and high school levels. School officials hope to adopt a policy in April and have it in place for the 2001-2002 school year.

"This is not something that will just be put through quickly," Mann said.

The proposed guidelines on the selection of valedictorian and salutatorian grew out of the dispute last month that culminated in an emergency board hearing to select the valedictorian at Severna Park High School a day before the June 3 graduation.

Senior J. J. Kasper - who had been told in early May by school Principal Mary Gable that he would probably be named class valedictorian - was bumped from the top spot two weeks before graduation after school officials calculated the final class rankings. The difference that separated him from the new valedictorian, Robert Schaefer, was a little more than one-hundredth of a point.Kasper's GPA was 4.5312, and Schaefer's was 4.5425.

Because of the fractional difference, Kasper's mother, Mary Kasper, asked Gable to name them co-valedictorians. The principal refused, and Kasper appealed the decision to the school board.

Mary Kasper, a teacher at Northeast High School in Pasadena, said her son had been humiliated because he had been identified as the school valedictorian at two graduation rehearsals.

Although the board refused to name co-valedictorians - keeping Schaefer at the top of the class - members expressed surprise at the lack of a written policy defining how the rankings should be calculated. Essentially, tradition and common practice at each of the county's 12 high schools dictated the calculation method.

Board members also were troubled that it was a mathematical oddity that knocked Kasper from the valedictorian spot.

The conflict arose from the calculation of "quality points," added for honors courses, and the number of course credits earned over the four years. Kasper had 24 credits; Schaefer had 23.5.

The fractional difference that reversed the top academic spots stemmed from Kasper's choice to take Latin during his senior year, while Schaefer chose to work as a department aide for one semester. The GPA calculations - quality points divided by the number of credits - put Schaefer on top by a hundredth of a point.

Had the proposed regulations been in effect this year, Schaefer would still have been the valedictorian because the department aide position would not carry any credit and would not be used to calculate the GPA.

Some members said it appeared that Kasper - who earned an A in Latin - had been penalized for taking the academic course, while Schaefer benefited from his choice.

The proposal also calls for the valedictorian calculation to be based on final grades from eight semesters' worth of work. Some high schools assign rankings based on grades from seven semesters.

The proposed guidelines would allow for two valedictorians in the event of tied GPAs. If the top ranking is shared, there would be no salutatorian.

"There has to be an exact tie to have co-valedictorians," Mann said.

The GPAs would be calculated to the "thousandths" place and rounded to the hundredths place. For example, 4.524 would be rounded to 4.52, and 4.510 would become 4.51.

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