Student: High school credits from middle school cost me valedictorian title

James Ingraham is a student in Hall County. (Courtesy of James Ingraham)

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

James Ingraham is a student in Hall County. (Courtesy of James Ingraham)

How high schools decide valedictorians has often proven controversial and complicated, as this guest column by a Hall County senior illustrates.

James Ingraham has devoted himself to being his high school’s valedictorian, but, ironically, he contends he is being penalized by credits and grades from high school classes he took in an accelerated middle school program.

He explains how this happened in this guest column.

By James Ingraham

The title of valedictorian is awarded to top-achieving seniors every spring. The title also comes with a golden ticket — guaranteed admission to the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech.

Grade-point average and class rank are also vital metrics for college admissions, scholarships, and honors programs. But, as hundreds of Georgia students enter the home stretch in pursuit of the honor, some, like me, are unfairly disadvantaged by a peculiar math problem.

I am a senior in Hall County, and I am seeking to effect change through awareness. This problem in Hall is middle schools here offer differing amounts of high school credits, causing students to enter high school on an unlevel playing field.

My middle school was a language immersion school, requiring four Spanish credits, and some students also took more high school-level classes in core subjects. Administrators push for this advanced coursework as a badge of honor and a way to get ahead.

I left middle school with 12 credits, whereas my closest competitor has seven. When senior class rank is calculated, that higher number of credits becomes a detriment. Two students taking identical classes in high school, even when every single grade was an A, would have different GPAs. The student who took more high school classes ends up with a lower GPA than the student who did not, as shown in this illustration.

While the Hall County School District includes high school credits earned in middle school when calculating high school GPA, other districts such as Gwinnett County show middle school credits earned in high school on transcripts, but the grades are not included when calculating high school GPA.

Credit: Contributed

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Credit: Contributed

I have worked diligently toward my goal of being valedictorian. I often stay up late completing assignments and wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning to complete coursework, work out for my cycling team and practice my guitar. Summers are spent on International Baccalaureate coursework and test prep.

As someone who grapples with a stutter and a processing disorder, I am driven to show that adversities can be overcome. I am trying hard to not let this fluke in the system dampen my spirits, but the surprise of being notified that it is now impossible for me to achieve my goal has been hard.

Ironically, the A’s from middle school have become an insurmountable obstacle. Many of Hall County’s brightest students have lost out on the rank they deserve, and it continues each year. High school counselors are aware of the unfairness of this issue.

The onus is on Hall County Schools to provide clear information to families at the middle school level, but when confronted, the district’s response is simply that students are given the opportunity to deny credits at the end of eighth grade and not carry them into high school.

Why would anyone choose to do that if they received an A? The problem is that no one tells you that too many credits will harm you. The school district also refuses to implement any equalizing measure.

This raises a pertinent question: Why have they failed to act? Their policy simultaneously undermines the achievement of students who have worked diligently to excel, hoping for that golden ticket, while artificially raising the ranks of others who took a less rigorous path.

To their credit, some school systems including Gwinnett and Forsyth have recognized the problem of varying middle school credits and have taken the necessary steps to prevent unfairness. Gwinnett Schools specify in its parental information: “Courses that earn a high school Carnegie credit in middle school will not be used in the grade point average calculation for high school, which determines class rank, valedictorian, honor graduate, etc.”

Gwinnett, Forsyth and other districts with similar rules have adjusted policy to ensure middle school rigor does not negatively affect high school GPA or class rank. These districts realized that it is not a mathematically sound practice to compare two equations with differing denominators.

In those districts, middle school credits are shown on transcripts, and the students work is honored, but the grades are not included when calculating high school GPA. This is the right thing to do and reflects each student’s achievements. Hall County, whose ethos is “character, competency and rigor,” should modernize its policies also.

I am grateful to Hall County for the opportunities my bilingual education will afford me. But it has come at a cost I was not expecting to pay. I am hoping that Hall County will honor my achievements and do the right thing for me and others in my situation, even if I have to share the honor with another student.

I am also calling for all school systems to keep families well informed of the consequences of taking on extra rigor or changing their policies. Hall County’s policy deters ambition and undermines the essence of education — the pursuit of knowledge and growth.