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Backlash Over Tewksbury High's Decision To End Class Rankings And Designation Of Valedictorian

Jun 08, 2016 01:42PM ● By Bill Gilman

TMHS "Valedictorian" Jimmy Boucher addresses his classmates.

It was a line that was not in Jimmy Boucher's original Tewksbury High graduation speech.
In fact, he would say later, in a tweet, that he had to hide page 2 of his speech in the sleeve of his graduation gown to avoid detection by school administrators.
Near the end of his speech, he quoted Thomas Jefferson's encouragement that, " a little rebellion now and then is a good thing."
And then Boucher said something that caught the attention of roughly 1,000 people in the TMHS and sparked thunderous applause.
"With that said, I stand before you today as the valedictorian who isn't allowed to say he's the valedictorian," said Boucher.
Suddenly, Boucher had thrown a spotlight on a fairly new policy that had flown largely under the radar, since being implemented in time for the 2014-2015 school year. At that time, Tewksbury High dropped official class rankings and dropped the designation of Valedictorian and Salutatorian for the top two students in each graduating class.
"My understanding is that the decision was made to eliminate class rank because of unhealthy competition around GPA between students and that fact that students were creating schedules that were not rigorous just to have a higher GPA, so that they could be valedictorian or salutatorian," said Kristen Vogel, who replaced Brenda Theriault-Regan as TMHS principal at the start of the 2014-15 school year.
Tewksbury High is hardly alone with the new policy. Schools across Massachusetts and across the country have started dropping class rankings both to discourage unhealthy competition but also because, according to some colleges, they have become an archaic way of measuring achievement.
"Colleges do not require students to report a class rank and in fact they recalculate GPA to meet their own formula --  not ours," said Vogel. "Colleges report to us that the rigor of a students transcript is much more important than their class rank.  In fact, class rank can be detrimental to students in the college process. If a high school reports class rank, the student must report it on the common application.  So a student who is a strong B+ student who took honors and AP classes might be ranked 100 out of 240.  This does not look all that great on the college application however because the school reports rank that student must report it.  This takes away from the fact that this student took hard classes."
Still, despite the administration's good intentions, the school has received backlash from students and parents who would like to see the policy reversed.
Emma Hyberts, the top scholar in the TMHS Class of 2015, identified herself as the Valedictorian in her graduation speech but most people didn't realize, at the time, that she had not been supposed to. It was the wording of Boucher's statement, a year later, that generated debate and discussion.
As part of the policy, the Valedictorian and Salutatorian are not automatically chosen to give speeches at graduation. Rather, all students in the graduating class are invited to submit a speech for consideration. According to Boucher, nine students submitted speeches and three were chosen. One of those not chosen to speak was "Salutatorian" Aria Porzio.
Boucher felt Porzio should be recognized, so he identified her as the Salutatorian during his speech.
"She worked so hard. She deserved it," said Boucher.
Vogel said there has not, to this point, been any formal discussion about revisiting the policy and restoring class ranks and designations. However, members of the Tewksbury School Committee have indicated they would like to see that take place.
"I think we should have the valedictorian and salutatorian and maybe top 10-20 students," said School Committee member Jamey Cutelis. "But I don't think we need to publicize the ranking of the whole class, just rank (them) to determine who is at top and just release those rankings."
New committee member Arthy Bennett said she has always supported the designations of Valedictorian and Salutatorian and would like to see them restored."
"I think this is something that needs to be revisited," said Committee Chairperson Krissy Polimeno. "This is something that has never been brought before the committee. It was a decision made at the administrative level. There was a little bit of feedback last year but there has been more this year."


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