Dulaney case prompts review of grade ranking Move follows fierce valedictorian rivalry

June 05, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance and Mary Maushard | Frank D. Roylance and Mary Maushard,Staff Writers Staff writers Dana Hedgpeth, Carol L. Bowers, Lan Nguyen, Anne Haddad and Edward Lee contributed to this article.

Competition for class rank at Dulaney High School -- so fierce that two top students were allowed to enroll in night or summer courses to get ahead of each other -- has prompted Superintendent Stuart Berger to name a committee to examine Baltimore County's ranking system.

Dr. Berger said he had reservations about the "competitive stress" the ranking system places on students.

"I was especially concerned that students with all A's could rank 30th or 40th in their class," he said in a statement released yesterday.

The superintendent said he made arrangements to form the committee a month ago -- well before Stan White, a radio talk show host and former Baltimore Colt, filed suit this week to force Dulaney to name his daughter co-valedictorian with another student who had edged her out in the competition.

Dr. Berger said nothing about the committee when asked for comment about the lawsuit Thursday. The suit was dismissed in Baltimore County Circuit Court, and Mr. White has said he will not pursue further legal action.

Dr. Berger's written statement yesterday was the only break in the wall of silence school officials have erected around the events at Dulaney.

L "No school official will have any further comment," he said.

The controversy brought into question the county's long-standing system of ranking students under a weighted grading system that encourages top academic achievers to take the most difficult courses -- and additional summer school and night courses -- in order to edge out their peers.

The competition appears to be particularly strong at Dulaney, one of the county's top academic schools, which serves the well-educated, upper-middle class communities in the Dulaney Valley northeast of Towson.

"It requires a lot of effort to stay high in class rank. Dropping your GPA to a B can drop you down into the 30s [30th percentile], so some students do take extra summer courses to boost their class rank and stay in the top 20 percent," junior Rafal Gegala said as students left classes yesterday afternoon.

"I have to take courses that offer the most points, not because I want to, but just to improve my class rank," said sophomore Jenny Kim.

Unusual system

L Some students aren't affected by the pressure, or resist it.

"Class rank and competing for grades is only a big thing among those who are high up there," said junior Christi Marasco. "They make it seem like it's a failure to be middle-of-the-row in rank."

Baltimore County's "quality point" system, used for ranking students and selecting valedictorians, is unusual in the metropolitan area.

Instead of using a traditional four-point scale, Baltimore County high schools weight grades, assigning "quality points," depending on what level of class the student is taking.

School officials said there are five levels: gifted-and-talented, honors, standard, basic and special education.

The majority of students take standard courses, in which the subject matter and workload are appropriate for the grade level. Honors courses are harder, and GT classes are for intellectually gifted students.

Letter grades have a different "quality" value at each level. For example, an A is worth seven points in GT programs; six points in an honors course. Over the course of four years, the student with the most points -- a combination of the highest grades in the most courses at the highest level -- gets the highest rank.

"It's never been an issue with teachers," said Ed Veit, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.

When Dr. Berger appointed a committee earlier this year to study overall grading methods, the panel considered the weighting issue and decided -- without comment or discussion -- to continue it.

Other school districts around the area have different grading systems and varying policies on class rank and the selection of valedictorians:

* In Baltimore, most high schools have a valedictorian, said Donna Franks, city schools' spokeswoman. At City College, the valedictorian is the student with the highest grade point average in junior and senior years. Walbrook High School does not choose a valedictorian, honoring the top 1 percent of graduates instead. City students' grades are not weighted, said Ms. Franks.

* Howard County does not use weighted grading, though the school system considered it 10 years ago. The schools do not name valedictorians, either. Instead, they're encouraged to recognize top-ranking students at an awards ceremony separate from graduation, said Daniel Jett, director of high schools.

* Carroll County schools do not weight grades. Each of the county's five high school can decide if it wants to name a valedictorian. At least two do not. Westminster High, the county's largest, honors all students with a straight-A average, said assistant principal Kent Kreamer.

* Anne Arundel high schools name the students with the highest overall grade point average as their valedictorians. Anne Arundel doesn't weight grades by course difficulty, but will do so in the future.

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