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Wheeling Park administrators want to change the valedictorian ‘game’

Special to the Journal/Joselyn King Wheeling Park High School Principal Amy Minch, left, and Associate Principal Meredith Dailer address Ohio County Board of Education members regarding proposed changes that would involve eliminating class rank, the selection of a valedictorian and credits awarded for non-elective classes.

WHEELING, W.Va. — Wheeling Park High School would no longer designate a valedictorian, have class rank or give honors credits for elective classes under proposed curriculum changes beginning with the class of 2024.

Administrators are seeking to eliminate “the game” at WPHS that forces students to compete each other for higher grade point averages, class standing and valedictorian status.

Playing “the game” often results in students taking honors classes that have more impact on their GPA, and ignoring non-honors electives that might help them in their career path or enrich them as a person, according to Principal Amy Minch.

She addressed the issue before the Ohio County Board of Education last week.

“The greatest asset we have at Wheeling Park High — and what we can call our fame — is our vast curriculum,” she said. “We offer so many courses to our students in all areas. But students don’t always take advantage of that curriculum because of choices they are making to ‘play the game’ or get a higher grade point average. They want to take only the classes that are honors.”

Minch said administrators at the school are seeking to make changes that will allow students “to explore the vast curriculum and dive into courses that maybe aren’t honors classes, but could be beneficial to what they are going to do in the future.”

She said students at the school compete against each other to get the highest GPA and win scholarships, even though the competition is not encouraged. Administrators want them to instead compete against themselves to be the best they can be.

“If I’m going on to be a nurse, I want to take medical terminology even though it’s not an honors course because it’s going to help me,” Minch said.

Minch acknowledged there is not equity in the school’s GPA system, and administrators want to achieve that.

Those in the performing arts do not receive honors credit for participation even if they are selected for an honors choir, she explained. Also, career and technical students don’t receive honors credits even when they excel and complete their program.

“The equity in GPA is a great concern,” Minch said. “It’s just not fair for every student.”

Suggested changes would begin not with the freshman class starting at WPHS in August, but with the freshman class entering the school in August 2020 — the class of 2024, she said. These changes would center on the elimination of class rankings and valedictorians, as well as abolishing honors credits for electives.

Class rankings would no longer be published on students’ transcripts, or records they would take with them to college.

This would not negatively affect students going on to colleges and universities as so many school districts have eliminated class rank as a means of determining student admission. Students applying to college online now have an option to select “no rank” on their applications and it is not used as an option by most colleges.

They instead look primarily at the student’s test scores, and the courses completed by the student.

“It’s just another process that undermines our vast curriculum,” she said.

Core honors classes in English, science, social studies and math still would be offered to students.

“We want to encourage kids to challenge themselves. My goal is that a student who is on that edge will take that honors course, do well, then try AP (advanced placement) classes.”

Honors electives will be phased out with the class of 2023, creating grading equity among all electives.

“Genetics classes will not be worth honors, but it will still be the same genetics class students have always taken,” Minch said.

The WPHS course book will have to be changed before many of the suggested changes can be implemented.

Board of Education members also would have to approve the changes, and board member David Croft suggested they take some time to gather public opinion on them before giving their approval.

“Lets let them come forward with what those thoughts should be,” he said. “This is totally compelling.

“If someone said lets vote on it tonight, I would vote in favor. But in the interest of transparency, giving folks a chance to comment or weigh in (is necessary) on what is a very fundamental change on what we are accustomed to doing.”

Board member Sarah Koegler said if the board makes its decision before the start of the upcoming school year in August, that should give WPHS time to change their materials and prepare the information they will provide to students starting next year.

Weir High School in Hancock County and John Marshall High School in Marshall County already have eliminated the determination of a class valedictorian, while school officials at high schools elsewhere in the Northern Panhandle reported they still continue the tradition of having a valedictorian. All of the high schools still assign rankings to students.

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