Forsyth County’s high school students can expect some major changes beginning in August as district leaders and school principals finish discussions on issues regarding class rankings, full-time student schedules, quality points impacting GPA and more.
High School Director Dawn Phipps said the High School Improvement Committee, consisting of school and district leaders, began last year looking at ways they could help students and staff in secondary education. To do this, the committee started a year-long process in which they took a deep look into the district’s procedures and processes along with other districts in the state, focusing in on scheduling, grading and reporting.
From the findings and feedback from students, staff and school leaders, the committee was able to pinpoint problems that some were facing in the district and create recommendations for change that would help to solve those problems.
The committee reviewed the recommendations with school leaders during a retreat for high school principals last month, and Phipps then presented the finalized recommended changes to the Board of Education during its meeting Tuesday, March 16.
One of the biggest changes the committee has decided on is to remove students’ class rank from transcripts.
Phipps said the committee decided to make this change beginning with a freshman cohort in the 2022-23 school year because current students get caught up in a race to reach valedictorian or salutatorian. Students can easily become fixated with class rank, and Phipps said one student even shared that she checks her class rank every morning when she wakes up.
On top of that, Phipps explained that a student’s class rank alone is not an indicator of academic achievements.
“Because so many of our students are high achieving, you may have a graduating class of let’s say 700 students, and you may rank 200 but you still have a 3.5 GPA,” Phipps said. “That’s not a true representation of the great work students are doing if you just solely look at class rank.”
In order to give more students an equal opportunity to climb up in the class rank and have a shot at valedictorian or salutatorian upon graduation, the committee also decided to limit the number of quality points a student can earn to eight total per school year beginning in the 2022-23 year.
Students earn quality points by taking dual enrollment, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, which operate on a 5.0 GPA scale compared to the 4.0 GPA scale that other courses use. This means students can earn more points toward their GPA if they earn a high grade in one of these courses than if they earned the same grade in another class.
“A number of our students will seek other places to get more of those courses to have more quality points,” Phipps said. “That’s part of that race for class rank and those types of things.”
With the limit beginning with a freshman cohort in 2022, Phipps said if a student takes another advanced course and they have already earned their limit of eight quality points, then the course will be graded on a 4.0 scale as normal.
Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden took a moment during the meeting to point out that the decisions to remove class rank from student transcripts and limit quality points came from students in the district who recommended that the school system make the change for future students.
“They knew it wouldn’t impact them because they understood we couldn’t change the game in the middle of their high school career, but they felt like, for the future of Forsyth County Schools from a student's perspective, we needed to address these two issues,” Bearden said.
While discussing some of the issues that students brought up to them, Phipps said the committee also thought about possibly removing the roles of valedictorian and salutatorian from their high school graduations entirely. After discussing it with staff, however, they felt the recognition for the students who made it to the top of their classes was important.
They did recommend that the school system instead expand recognition of honors graduates to include Honors for students with a GPA between 3.5 and 3.99 and High Honors for students with a 4.0 GPA or higher.
“So that we’re really pinpointing the great work that our students are doing, not only just for the valedictorian and salutatorian, but for a number of our students who are really excelling and pushing the boundaries,” Phipps said.
The high schools will begin with this change starting in August for the 2021-22 school year.
The committee and school leaders decided to make several other changes going into the next school year with some of them being temporary changes that the schools made during the pandemic that students and staff have realized they want to continue with even after the threat of the pandemic is gone.
For example, the school system changed course requirements for full-time students after schools first shut down about a year ago. To be considered full-time, most students, aside from seniors, had to take at least seven classes, but the district dropped that requirement down to six to help students who were maybe struggling with taking virtual classes at home.
“[We understand] that seven classes might be a lot for some students, and this would give them more flexibility also as we transition and look more at some of the virtual options,” Phipps said. “Some of our schools are looking at hybrid versions of some face-to-face classes and some virtual classes. Providing students with only six classes would allow for some transportation time, more flexibility, more personalization moving forward.”
District and school leaders have also noticed an improvement in professional learning among staff during the pandemic as it has been more “job-embedded, focused and really leaning into the professional learning community.”
In order to create more time for staff to participate in professional learning, the committee suggested pushing back the school day for students once per week. Phipps explained that buses for students would still run at the same time, but students would begin the day with remediation, social and emotional learning or study hall as staff members engage in professional learning.
Phipps explained the staff would work on a rotational basis, switching out with other staff members after professional learning to supervise students.
District and school leaders will share further details on these changes closer to the start of the school year as students prepare to come back to school during the summer break.
Bearden explained during the meeting that the board did not need to vote on or approve any of the recommended changes as they are all administrative, so the final decision will be up to school leaders.
For more information, visit www.forsyth.k12.ga.us.