LAND O'LAKES — Who's No. 1?
The way Pasco County high schools determine that might soon change.
A proposal that goes to the School Board on Tuesday would count more courses in the district's class-rank calculation than were included in the formula for the most recent graduates. It would add to the mix high school-level courses taken at middle school and online.
If approved, the change would take effect for freshmen entering high school in 2014-15.
"We want to make sure this is communicated to parents and students far enough in advance," said Darrell Huling, district supervisor of secondary curriculum. "It's very important to many students who strive for that top ranking."
Huling said the state's recently adopted rules promoting academic acceleration for qualified students prompted the district to act. The 2012 measures include provisions for early graduation and requires school districts to include "accelerated educational options" in their student progression plans.
The School Board will consider adding this change to the district's progression plan.
Some of this year's valedictorians took a dim view of the district's recommendation, which would bring Pasco's practices more in line with those of neighboring Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Ashelynne Hanold, Sunlake High School's 2013 valedictorian, called the idea stupid.
While working her way to No. 1, Hanold said, she didn't feel pressured to stack her classes to boost her GPA. She took the toughest courses she could handle while in school and spent time outside class hours cheerleading, working and taking advantage of extracurricular activities.
The only courses that counted toward class rank were those taken as part of the six-period day.
"I got three B's and I was still valedictorian," said Hanold, 18, who heads to the University of Florida in the fall.
The proposed rules could shift the balance to teens who don't have to work, or don't want to participate in outside activities, she suggested. "It's going to hurt the people who are just average kids."
Pasco High School valedictorian T.J. Pyche said the proposal seemed pointless.
"There doesn't seem to be any point other than to let some kid who wants to take 10 courses online become the valedictorian," said Pyche, 18, who also will enroll at the University of Florida in the fall.
He noted that extra courses already count toward a student's graduation GPA, which differs from the class rank version. In addition, he said, colleges and universities don't know students' final class ranks when they make admission decisions.
Such details put the change of class rank GPA calculation in the "vanity" category for Pyche.
"The people who work the hardest and take the right courses and do the best, they're going to be No. 1 regardless," he said, suggesting that perhaps the valedictorian ranking isn't so important in the end.
School Board member Steve Luikart, a former high school assistant principal, said he supported the idea of counting the courses that students take toward graduation in their ranking GPA.
"If they're going to take Algebra II or physics (outside of the school day) … and everything is the way it is supposed to be, they why shouldn't it be counted?" Luikart said.
At the same time, he continued, the district might be wise to consider a different way of recognizing high school students' academic performance than class rank. So many problems arise under the existing system, he said.
"I have actually seen students transfer from one school to another because one student was beating them out in GPA and they didn't want to be salutatorian," Luikart said. "Some students put way too much emphasis on the position rather than on what they're getting."
He preferred the college method of having students graduate with different levels of honors, although he quickly acknowledged that such a shift was unlikely. Hernando County School Board members recently backed away from their move to eliminate valedictorians, and Luikart didn't think the idea would go over well in Pasco, either.
The entire issue of class ranking "is something that the superintendent and staff need to look at closely," he said. "It has merit and needs to be discussed."
Huling said a committee explored the pros and cons of both the grade-point and class-rank concepts before making any recommendations. Some committee members raised concerns, for instance, that in adding new courses to the GPA calculation, students would no longer be "protected" from low grades in courses that they took outside the regular high school day.
Changes to district policy would put the onus on the students, which could change the way they make academic decisions. Huling said he was hopeful that students ultimately would not let GPA get in the way of opportunity.
"Bottom line, students should take the courses they are ready to take," he said, "regardless of how they fall in class rank."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.