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Board considers honors compromise

The School Board says it wants to keep the system for choosing class valedictorian and salutatorian another year but also use the cum laude system for the class of 2000.

Top graduates of Citrus high schools this year could be honored in a way that is both old and new.

If a compromise system is approved next month, honor graduates will be recognized through the cum laude system in use in many colleges and universities. But after hearing protests from students and parents, the School Board decided this week to consider keeping the former method of choosing a valedictorian and salutatorian at least one more year.

A group of students and their parents last year pushed for so-called weighted grades _ extra credit given for honors courses _ and a better system of recognizing top graduates.

The board agreed to both weighted grades and a cum laude honors system that would end the traditional choosing of the valedictorian and salutatorian from each graduating class.

Since then, some students have complained that they will lose recognition as the top students in their class, honors they have earned by maintaining perfect grade point averages throughout high school.

On Tuesday, the board talked about a compromise that would keep valedictorians and salutatorians for one more year but would also begin the cum laude system with the class of 2000.

Several weeks ago, the board took up changes in the Pupil Progression Plan, the district's list of academic rules. The changes included an explanation of how students would earn cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude honors. They also noted that the new system would take effect by 2002.

But Kathy Tolle, a parent who had been among those pushing the weighted grades and the cum laude system, told the School Board that the committee she served on didn't want to see a delay.

She said the cum laude system would recognize deserving students who took tough classes and earned high grades while removing the competitiveness of the old valedictorian and salutatorian designations.

Tolle said the committee had talked to students last year because they were sensitive to how they would feel about a change.

"They were interviewed individually before we came to the board in March," Tolle said. "They were all in great support of it."

Since then, several students have written to the school district, others talked to board members,and one parent of a potential valedictorian spoke to the board Tuesday, complaining about the fairness of changing the system in the middle of a student's high school career.

Roberta Dilocker, district director of secondary education, presented the board with the compromise idea at Tuesday's meeting.

With the new proposal, the valedictorian and salutatorian students in the class of 2000 will be selected based on their unweighted GPA. As in the past, they will be given a chance to address their classmates at graduation.

But also this year, weighted GPAs will be calculated, and students with a 3.5 GPA or higher will be designated as cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude, depending on other criteria.

This year, the high schools also will work out a way that a speaker be chosen for graduation from among the ranks of the summa cum laude graduates.

Dilocker said Wednesday that she has spoken to several universities about how they view the honors designations, and each has told her the same thing. It does not matter to them whether a student was a valedictorian or graduated summa cum laude. The GPA and types of classes taken by the student are the important factors to the universities.

The board agreed to add the dual honors system to the Pupil Progression Plan proposal, which it will consider approving after a public hearing Sept. 14.

They also discussed another element of the Pupil Progression Plan and agreed to wait for more data before making any changes to the document based on that discussion.

Dilocker is gathering information about how many of the sophomores who took the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test had taken their first high school math or English course before taking the test.

The Pupil Progression Plan doesn't require either class before a student is designated a sophomore. The board is considering requiring one or both of the academic subjects before granting the sophomore designation since all sophomores take the FCAT and schools and school districts are being graded by the state on such scores.