SM East to change graduation honors system for 2015 seniors; top 10 class rank dropped, including valedictorian

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SM East will drop its traditional practice of honoring only the top 10 graduates by class rank at this year’s graduation ceremonies. That also means no more valedictorian, starting with the class of 2015.

In a letter to parents, SM East Principal John McKinney said the 2015 graduation ceremonies will move to the practice of honoring students in a more collegiate model, using the designations of cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude.

In the traditional model, McKinney said, only about 2.6 percent of the class would have been honored for academic achievement. Under the new system about 18 percent of the class will be recognized as cum laude, more than five percent as magna cum laude and 4.5 percent as summa cum laude – with the highest honors. The senior class has 375 students this year.

The breaks between the designations were not based on a specific number limit for each category, but McKinney said the school did look for natural grade point breaks in the one to 20 range for summa and in the 20 to 50 range for magna. The cum laude designation can run to those with a 4.0 average. The number of students being honored can change from year to year, according to McKinney.

Not every Shawnee Mission school will make the change this year. SM North Principal Richard Kramer said his school will continue to recognize the top 10 academic scholars along with all students who had a GPA of 4.0 and above, who receive an honor cord.

In his letter, McKinney said the new approach will recognize more than 100 additional students for academic accomplishments. SM Northwest used the new system in 2014.

The idea of changing the graduation honors was presented to the Shawnee Mission School Board last November. It was pointed out that the difference between top students often is calculated by hundredths of a point and well above a 4.0 grade average. To be in the running for a top class rank, students not only need to get straight A grades, they must take a significant number of weighted honors courses.