Shawnee Mission schools consider dropping class rank as a graduation honor

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Will class rank become a thing of the past at Shawnee Mission high school graduations? That is the discussion under way among high school principals.

Replacing the system that honors only the top 10 graduates in numeric order at graduation could be one that recognizes a larger group of students in three graduation categories: summa cum laude, magna cum laude and cum laude. The number of students honored in those categories each year could be flexible, depending on the split of grade point averages.

Shawnee Mission Associate Superintendent Dr. Gillian Chapman said each school could set the groups each year rather than by a district standard. “We are being more inclusive,” rather than honoring just the top 10, she said.

Class rank already has been dropped from the transcripts that are available on Skyward, the district’s electronic reports available to students and parents. The school board also was told that class rank is becoming less important in college admission. Far more important are the strength of the curriculum and grades in college prep classes, the board was told. Scholarships and admission committees are no longer requiring class rank. “If a student desperately needed their class rank for some purpose, we can calculate it,” Chapman said.

Another problem noted with the ranking system is how it drives students to make course choices. To be in the running for a top class rank, students not only need straight A grades, they need to take honors classes that are weighted (for example graded on a 5 point scale rather than 4). That drives competitive students away from studies such as band or art because they do not have weighted classes.

The difference between top students often is calculated by the hundredths of a point and always well above a 4.0 grade average. SM Northwest used the cum laude designations last year and recognized 12 students as summa cum laude, 35 students as magna cum laude and 58 students as cum laude for at total of 105 students recognized, rather than just the top 10. A decision has not yet been made about graduation honors by the other principals.