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Wed, Dec. 11

PHS officials:

PRESCOTT ­ The implementation this year of a new graduation policy at Prescott High School has many students and parents up in arms.

The policy goes into effect this year for seniors who were eighth-graders when a school site council committee designed it.

While eliminating valedictorian and salutatorian honors, committee members said (according to minutes from their Dec. 15, 2001, meeting), the policy also helps eliminate competition between students.

Rather than encouraging students to best one another, it encourages them to work toward a standard.

Several students and parents who spoke to the district Governing Board during an April 4 meeting said they believe the policy is unfair, that competition is part of life and that the policy puts higher-achieving students at a disadvantage when looking for scholarships that require class ranking notification.

Several college financial aid officials said, however, that the use of class ranking as a determining factor for whether a student receives merit-based scholarships, as opposed to need-based, is obsolete.

Vikki Gill, who has been director of financial aid at Yavapai College for 26 years, said that Yavapai College staff has stopped considering class ranking to determine scholarship eligibility.

"It's not as reliable an indicator as GPA is," she said, explaining that ranking has a lot to do with the size of the school.

For example, in a graduating class of 20 people (approximately the size of Mayer High School's graduating class this year), the highest-ranking student may have a lower GPA than the highest-ranking student in a class of 450 graduates.

With all the small high schools in Yavapai County that filter into Yavapai College, Gill and her staff focus more on GPA and a student's presentation in his cover letter.

However, she said, "Community colleges are so different from public four-year and private four-year colleges."

Martha Byrd, dean of undergraduate admissions at Arizona State University, agreed.

Though the indexing system ASU staff use takes class ranking into account in some cases ­ as well as GPA and standardized test scores in all cases ­ not having a ranking will not negatively affect a student's chances of receiving merit-based money, she said.

"If we have no way to confirm it," she said of a class ranking, "It's hard to use it."

"But we look at other criteria. We don't base (financial aid) solely on that (ranking)," she said.

Laura Jauron, a senior financial aid counselor for Northern Arizona University, said her staff generally looks at a student's SAT scores and GPA, too.

The ranking, she said, "is not part of the criteria. If they're a 4.0, it doesn't matter whether they were recognized at their school or not."

Similarly, if a student has a 3.8 GPA and great SAT scores, he may be eligible for just as much financial aid as a 4.0 student.

A weighted GPA, she pointed out, is going to be the same regardless of what a student's class ranking is.

Dan Lupin, director of financial aid at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said the three primary points of information the admissions office looks at when deciding whether to admit students include class ranking, GPA and SAT scores.

However, in determining the amount of financial aid a student might receive, the financial aid staff look at which programs a student's has an interest.

All four financial aid/admissions officials said that class ranking may play a role in receiving private scholarships.

Also, Gill said class ranking plays no role in federal financial aid, which is primarily need-based. To receive federal aid, a student must have passing grades, but must not necessarily be at the top of his class.

Although the school site council, not the district governing board, typically sets graduation policies, parents and students have brought this issue to the board because the site council already approved it, and many parents and students believe, it's not the best thing for students.

During an April 4 meeting, PHS Principal Totsy McCraley said, "Four years ago, PHS faculty and staff were concerned about the competition that goes along with how students were selected for top 10 candidacy."

Also, calculating which students really were the "best" ­ which had the highest grade-point-average and the most honors ­ proved difficult because of Advanced Placement courses, which offer one more grade point than traditional courses do, and because of extracurricular activity participation.

McCraley and PHS Counselor Judy Martinez said school personnel had worked to make students in the class of 2006 aware of the new policy since those students were in eighth grade; however, many of the students and parents at the April 4 meeting claimed they didn't know anything about it until it was too late for the students to earn all the points necessary.

Board Member Tom Staley said this past week that he believes the Governing Board needs to make a decision as soon as possible for this year's graduating class and then make a more permanent policy.

For this year, he said, he'd like the board to approve the reinstatement of valedictorian and salutatorian honors, a ranking for all graduating students, elimination of the extra two credits currently required for "graduation with distinction," recognition of the top 5 percent of this year's class, to allow a National Honors Society representative to speak at graduation and to widely disseminate, in writing, all changes to the policy.

The Governing Board may vote on a motion regarding this policy at its meeting Tuesday evening. That meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. in the district office, 146 S. Granite St.

Contact the reporter at hdartt@prescottaz.com

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