During the 2016-17 school year, an academic committee met regularly to investigate grade weighting and class rank at Cohoes High School. The group examined student performance, course selections, grade point averages and grade weighting as it relates to academic rigor and class rank.
The committee, led by Cohoes High School Principal Bryan Wood, determined that in many cases, those students at the top of the class would opt for easier courses to secure their spot at the top of the class, refraining from loading their schedule with multiple dual-credit and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Those students who did opt for challenging academic coursework–whether taking a variety of AP and college-level classes, or enrolling in rigorous Science Research and New Visions programs–were making outstanding academic gains, but not being appropriately recognized for their pursuits.
The committee met with the Board of Education in the spring to recommend changes to grade weighting and determining class rank. The board approved a new policy this summer, and the following changes will take effect beginning in September:
Grade Weighting: Universal weighted averages for AP, dual credit and honors courses.
Courses for all students enrolled at Cohoes High School will be weighted on a universal scale of six percent for AP courses, four percent for dual credit courses, and two percent for honors courses. For example, a student’s grade in an AP course would be weighted by 6 percent, meaning if a student received a 90 for the course, it would be averaged into GPA as a 95.4 percent.
Class Rank: Students will no longer be ranked by academic averages each semester.
Students will be recognized for high academic achievements in their senior year of high school, only. A valedictorian, salutatorian and honorable mention will be named in the late spring senior year, shortly before graduation. The distinction will be based on the Grade Point Average (GPA) of seven full semesters, plus one marking period.
In addition to these top three students, all students with an 85 or above weighted cumulative GPAs over their high school careers will now be recognized during graduation. Those students with GPAs of 85-89.9 will be recognized as graduating with honors. Students with GPAs between 90-94.9 will be recognized as graduating with high honors. Students with 95+ GPAs will be recognized as graduating with highest honors, and will be seated on stage for the duration of the graduation ceremony in June.
“We want our students to stop vying for the title of “valedictorian” and start challenging themselves to push themselves academically,” said Principal Wood. “By eliminating the constant reminder about who is in the lead, we expect more of our students will feel less pressure to keep their “spot” and instead opt for the courses that will advance their learning experiences, preparing them for college, technical skills or trades programs after high school.”
Student speeches at graduation are also changing. Following tradition, the class valedictorian will continue to deliver the first student speech. The second student speaker will be determined using a new selection process. Now, ANY current senior in good academic standing can submit a proposed graduation speech to Principal Wood. A committee, made up of an administrator, teacher and student representative from the junior class, will review proposals and select the speaker.
“We have so many talented and exceptional students here at Cohoes High School and I think it’s important that we not only acknowledge that fact, but also celebrate our diverse student body,” added Principal Wood. “Adding this public speaking opportunity for individuals to be heard is a way to do that.”
The administration expects an adjustment period for students who were accustomed to knowing their rank through their middle and high school years.
“Given the research, that rank can actually hurt a student from a class of high performing graduates, I think they’ll soon understand that it’s more important for them to focus on their own academic successes,” added Wood.
Principal Wood was interviewed in a June 19, 2017 Albany Times Union article about whether class rank matters. The story outlined how rank can hurt a student’s chances of getting into college, and noted that more than half of all U.S. high schools had abandoned the practice.
In the Capital Region, the story identified Guilderland H.S. also considering the change, and that both Niskayuna and Tamarac High School stopped publishing class rank in the 1990s.