New honors system proposal stirs emotions

More stories from Addie Lindenmeyer


After only a four year lifespan of weighted grades that was first initiated at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, the recent proposal of changing the recognition system has become the hot topic of students and faculty alike. Contemplation surrounding the proposal began in the spring of 2018, when the USD 373 Board of Education recommended that the administration look at weighted grades and recognition.

Following the recommendation from the board, a committee of department heads was created to represent each division in the school. From there, departments chairs held discussions with teachers in each department. The majority of staff supported the motion and therefore the proposal was sent to the board.

“In my department, there was at least one person that was very opposed to doing away with weighted grades and I stated that at the department meeting. I said ‘Well most of my department is on board, not all,’” Crittenden said. “A lot of other departments said the same thing, not all people in the department were supportive of doing away with weighted grades, but the majority was.”

With the introduction of the new honors system, administration is hoping to equally recognize students within core academics and CTE courses, as well as encourage students to participate in classes that will contribute to their futures. Counselor Alex Tyler believes that equity in the recognition of students was a main factor in the initiation of a proposal.

“I think being able to have students not have to make decisions [between core academics and CTE courses] and for them to be able to take classes that they want to take, not just necessarily because they want to get this recognition, is important,” Tyler said. “Maybe they miss out on being able to be in journalism or doing that because they couldn’t get all of their AP classes in.”

STEM/PLTW engineering teacher Brian Rickard agrees with the proposal of unweighted grades claiming that students should take classes that correspond with their desired future career.

“I would say that it’s important that students understand the value in the course comes from the content you are able to expose yourself to and learn. If the course has value to you and what your goals are,” Rickard said. “Whether your goal is to score well on the ACT, whether your goal is to go to Hutch Community College, whether your goal is to get a job in advanced manufacturing, whether is your goal is to go to fine arts somewhere; you need to be able to understand the value of the course and take the course because of the value that the content gives you.”

On the contrary, English teacher Lisa Otter believes that administration and teachers need a way to uphold the value of core courses such as math, English, science and social studies. Otter said removing weighted grades will result in the equal treatment of unequals.

“Not all classes are created equal, there are some that are more academically rigorous. People in other disciplines, they get certificates, they get employment right away out of school, you know all of those things,” Otter said. “You need a way to recognize academics, core academics in particular, which kind of tend to get shoved off to the side with all the talk about the value of CTE. We lose some of that liberal arts focus and my philosophy has always been getting students to make a life, not just a living.”

Otter said she received similar responses from the students within her three honors courses, most of them livid and holding the belief that the proposal was unjust.

“The other thing that caused me to take this on, is I’m a trauma responsive coach here at the high school. The initial purpose of the program, especially the weighted grades, was to incentivize taking the more rigorous academic courses,” Otter said. “A lot of students, that’s kind of a safety net for them, they may be more willing to take an honors or an AP course knowing that there is just that little bit of a cushion.”

Junior Mariah McDonald said she thinks that weighted grades motivate students to take ‘rigorous’ courses, as well as positively affect mental health.

“I think we should keep weighted grades. I do like the new cum laude system and all the programs that they are including, however, I think that weighted grades are essential to people’s mental health in school or how they value themselves,” McDonald said.

Nevertheless, freshman Own Mick said he does not believe unweighted grades will have considerable influence on students’ futures.

“It [unweighted grades] doesn’t really have an effect on us overall and when you go into college and you hand in your transcript and stuff, they don’t really look at it [weighted grades], they’ll look at the classes you take,” Mick said. “They won’t weight it, it’s the class itself.”

With the proposal of a new honors system, some confusion has emerged surrounding the cum laude system, a method in which students are honored as a result of high academic achievement. As opposed to needing a 4.0 GPA to qualify for the current system, the new system will only require a GPA of 3.8. Counselor Jana Crittenden said that changes within the sophomore and junior classes in relation to weighted courses and cum laude recognition are unknown.

“I know the conversation was that there had to be some type of transitional plan because speaking for my students in the junior class, they have worked really hard and they have planned their schedules for cum laude. I don’t think that should be taken away from them,” Crittenden said. “I think there’s a lot of gray area yet because we don’t know what the board is going to do.”

Despite conflicts with sporting events and the district wide orchestra concert, a number of students, parents and faculty members joined in the lecture hall on May 7 to voice their opinions surrounding the best interest of students. Otter said she feels as though students should be instrumental in constructing the grading system.

“We still have students who had crafted speeches, we have students with podcasts, we have students who are planning to write and email individual board members, and we do have some students who really don’t care one way or another on weighted grades,” Otter said.

Despite the May 7 public discussion opportunity, there have been no official decisions for change made within the honors system, although discussion of the topic will not cease.

Crittenden said administration and faculty still have an abundance of questions. The proposal will be an item of information at the June board meeting.

“They may say, ‘We don’t know’ to the way it is currently presented and they may kick it back to us,” Crittenden said. “They may come back to us and say ;We want you to have a transition plan before we decide,’ so I can’t predict that.”

While there will be no word from the board until June, in the meantime, Otter encourages her students to keep contact with the board.

“I think a lot of my passion for what we have done here has been because I want you guys [students] to have a voice, you deserve a voice,” Otter said. “As far as what is going to happen after the board meeting, I am encouraging students to keep contacting the board members, they are the ones who will be making the decision ultimately, and so knowing that, we don’t want it to slip from their minds.”