NORWALK, Conn. — Grade Point Averages have created controversy at Norwalk High School as the Norwalk Early College Academy, a subset of NHS, graduates its first class.
“Up until two months ago I was valedictorian of my graduating class,” Norwalk High School senior Katerina Karaiskos said Tuesday to the Board of Education. “Why the sudden change? I lost my slot because of the currently proposed method of calculating the NECA students into the traditional ranking system pool. This inequitable shift promotes an unfair learning environment that derails the futures of the overwhelming majority of the NHS student body.”
NECA was a focus of the BoE meeting, with leaders touting the achievements of the school’s first graduating class, including 12 students who will simultaneously receive Norwalk High School diplomas and Norwalk Community College Associate’s Degrees.
NECA is Connecticut’s first P-TECH school. Students take both high school classes and NCC classes, at no charge, and are mentored by IBM employees.
The NECA student who moved up to be valedictorian, Ryan Stelly, “simply happens to be an incredible student with incredible work capacity and intellect, who just worked and worked and worked, and got an A is every college class he took,” Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.
Both NECA students and NHS students made valid arguments as they spoke to the Board, Adamowski and others said.
Everyone had the opportunity to enroll in NECC, Erin Aymerich said, explaining that as a freshman NECC student four years ago she took double math and double English and an online history course, then in her sophomore year took eight classes instead of 10, with a college level class during the summer.
The grading process for the college class, comparable to an Advanced Placement class, was not the same as the NHS classes, she said, explaining that to achieve her Associate’s degree, she gave up sports this year as she took four NCC classes. The courses were recently weighted but when she applied to colleges they were not, affecting her ranking and her college prospects.
The comments made by NHS students are “hurtful, malicious and belittling,” Daniel De Menezes said, also describing a heavy workload as NECA students were “finishing essentially a full year’s worth of work in a semester.”
“We have been told by Norwalk High students that we don’t deserve the privilege of being part of their ranking system,” De Menezes said. “This belief has stemmed from the idea that NECA students have an unfair advantage due to the multitude of college classes that we have registered for.”
Anyone could sign up for NECA, but while there was room for 100 students the sophomore, junior and senior classes have less than 70 students, he said, going on to explain that the district decided that NECA couldn’t have its own mascot because the schools could not be separated and concluding, “If we don’t have the right to a mascot we shouldn’t have our own ranking.”
Chaz Bethel-Brescia, a NHS senior, said he’d been checking his transcripts routinely and had been ranked second, but in mid-March dropped to third.
Because this happened “before any full year courses completed,” it “indicates that a weight of course or courses previously not counted had been made,” he said. “To make such a change midway through a graduating class’s final year without any notification… is frankly quite concerning.”
Even if the high school students take a college class, it won’t affect their ranking, and the NHS students can only take up to eight credits a year while the NECA students can take 12, he said.
“The recognition that these students receive comes with their associate’s degree that they are earning, but for additional AP-level weight to be put on top of that puts traditional track Norwalk High School students at a disadvantage when both groups of students are placed in the same pool. It is most equitable that both pools be evaluated separately,” Bethel-Brescia said.
Adamowski said, “There are other college courses besides the NCC classes at both high schools and traditionally they have been weighted the same way as an AP or an IB (International Baccalaureate) class. This issue of taking a whole semester or one term is not accurate because they are all controlled by seat hours. So, you can take the same number of seat hours in one semester as you can in a year if you were taking a high school course.”
The dual credit or college classes are the issue, and the Board could study it through its Policy Committee, he said.
“You can either make a change in calculation or you can limit the number of college courses that can be part of the GPA,” he said.
While a NECA student is at the top of the rankings, the next seven or eight people on the list are NHS students, he said, predicting a similar issue next year at Brien McMahon High School when the first IB diplomate students graduate.
There are 40 diplomate students, who took all 13 IB classes, which are the equivalent of AP classes, he said, speculating that next year’s BMHS valedictorian could be an IB student.
BoE Chairman Mike Barbis said he understood the students’ frustrations because everyone wants to be valedictorian, but at the same time, they’ve already been accepted into college.
The rankings change every semester, Adamowski said, and NECA Principal Karen Amaker noted that the leading students could have been bumped by an NHS student.
Stelly was the only one who bumped because of one semenster, she said,
“Given the exact same program, everyone had the same advantage,” Amaker said. “However, because of his academic promise, because of his perseverance, because of his intellect and ability, this is now an issue. Had this been, in my opinion and with all due respect, if this had been a Norwalk High School student bumping another Norwalk High School student we would not be having this conversation.”
Teachers have signed a petition about the GPA rankings, she said, and, “I am concerned for my NECA students that they will be unfairly graded as a result of some of the sentiment that is now pervasive in Norwalk High School.”
Barbis said he’d been surprised by the the virulence and the tone of some of the emails he’d received on the topic.
“Fairness is in the eye of the beholder and I don’t think it’s going to be easy to come up with something that’s going to be acceptable to both sides,” he said.
Heidi Keyes said she wasn’t sure what could be done one month before graduation, and Julie Corbett commented that student rankings are only one piece of data that colleges look at.
“I think we absolutely need to… look at making the formulas more equitable and at least more fair to really validate the level of effort and the level of academic excellence of all students and all options that are presented to students,” Corbett said. “I think we also need to make sure that students are aware of the realities and the future implications, or not implications, of high school rankings.”