05/24/17 — School board discusses class size

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School board discusses class size

By Joey Pitchford
Published in News on May 24, 2017 9:57 AM

Class sizes and student honors were two of the major points of discussion for the Wayne County Board of Education Tuesday, as the board met for its monthly work session.

Superintendent Michael Dunsmore said that the recently-passed House Bill 13 would give Wayne County Public Schools some reprieve from the strict class size requirements mandated by the General Assembly last year, but that breathing room will be short-lived. The bill was amended by the Senate to postpone major class size reductions by a year, but it still reduces sizes for the upcoming year by a smaller amount.

In the 2017-2018 school year, the district will need around 20 new classrooms to comply, as opposed to 70 before HB13 was passed, said WCPS Assistant Superintendent for Accountability/Information Technology David Lewis. However, the district would need to add the other approximately 50 classrooms in the 2018-2019 school year, which will likely present almost as much of a challenge then as it would have this year.

The board also discussed statewide changes to the traditional grade scale system used to determine valedictorian and salutatorian honors in high schools. Where previously the district could assign more quality points to a student with a high "A" than one with a low "A," the new system adopted by the state assigns a flat point rate to each letter grade. This lack of differentiation will, over time, lead to many ties at the tops of classes, Lewis said, which could make awarding top honors difficult.

As a result, the board has been discussing moving away from the valedictorian/salutatorian system and adopted the collegiate honors model, where graduates could earn cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude distinctions.

Tamara Ishee, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that the Latin honors system makes for a healthier educational environment.

"At that top level, between those top few students, the difference is so minuscule between the two or three top kids that it's not even fair to recognize one over the other," she said. "It's saying that, on one test at some point in our high school career, you got a point higher than me, that's how small the difference is."

The Latin honors system, Ms. Ishee said, would shift students' mindsets away from competing against each other and toward competing with themselves, which she said takes some of the pressure off and lets students explore their class options more.

"Those kids at the top, they're not just going to stop working hard because now they can't be valedictorian," she said. "They're driven."