A former Woodstock High valedictorian sent me this e-mail amid the Etowah High School controversy over who deserved to be awarded the No. 1 spot — a student at the high school or a joint enrolled college student who never attended the school. (You have to read the background on this as it’s complicated.)
I have Lauren Clark’s permission to share her comments here. What I found interesting is her observation that her college courses were easier than her high school AP classes, yet gave her a higher GPA.
I have been told that same thing by other joint enrolled students — with the exception students enrolled in math classes at Georgia Tech. (After all the comments during the HOPE discussion about how tough Tech is compared to the rest of the state’s colleges, I have to wonder whether Tech is too hard on students or whether other campuses are too easy?)
I asked a college professor about Clark’s experience and her response was that AP classes are usually every day so students are living with that intensity on a daily basis. College classes are not five days a week. College teachers aren’t as focused on whether students did the work or show up as they regard their students as adults.
And she noted that AP teachers in high schools are under great pressure to get their students to excel on the AP exams, which are created and scored by the College Board. So, both teachers and students face accountability measures in AP classes that don’t exist in the college setting. College professors are not under any pressure for their students to score well on a standardized test that can then be compared to other classes in the same system and to national performance. Professors create and give their own tests.
Here is Lauren’s letter:
I am writing in response to an article I recently read in the AJC regarding the valedictorian controversy at Etowah High School. As the Woodstock High School Class of 2003 valedictorian and a former join enrollment student at Kennesaw State, I believe I can offer a unique perspective on this issue.
I will not spend much time discussing the absurdity of allowing a student to be valedictorian at a school she has never attended. I believe that it should be obvious that such a loophole should be closed. I would prefer to touch on the matter of weighting grades, the difficulty level of joint enrollment classes vs. AP classes, and how the current status-quo is causing students to take the path of least resistance, to their detriment.
Halfway through my freshman year at Woodstock High School, I learned that I was ranked #2 in my class. I was the ‘new kid’ at school and had no idea how I would compare to the rest of the students. Upon finding out how close I was to the #1 spot, I began to aggressively work harder in my classes. By the end of my second semester freshman year, I was ranked #1. I maintained this #1 ranking through my entire sophomore year and halfway into my junior year. It wasn’t until my second semester of junior year that I dropped back down to #2.
At the time that my rank fell to #2, I was in the process of deciding whether to continue taking AP classes at WHS or to joint enroll at Kennesaw. Ultimately, I decided to go to Kennesaw. Why? Because my goal was to graduate as #1, and as long as the other #1 didn’t joint enroll as well, it would guarantee me the title of Valedictorian. How did I know this?
1. Joint enrollment class give higher grades:
Joint enrollment classes are weighted the same way as AP class – extra 10 points. However, unlike AP classes, Kennesaw will not provide the high school with a numerical grade. They simply give you an A or B or whatever it is you earned. And the high school then takes that ‘A’ and gives you a number grade. That number grade happens to be a 100…which is then weighted to a 110. This is absurd.
Does anyone actually believe that I earned a 100 in that class? I can assure you I did not. Anyone who has ever taken a college course and realizes that a 90 will get you just as good of an A as a 99 will tell you that they calculate their effort in the class to get just a 90. There is no point in getting a 100 in the class. Even an overachieving, grade-grabbing perfectionist like myself saw no reason to waste time trying to get a perfect grade when I knew it would be given to me anyway.
1. Joint enrollment classes are easy.
For the average ’smart kid’, entry level college course are not challenging. When compared to AP classes, they are even more laughable. My calculus exams at Kennesaw were composed of homework problems verbatim, so if I did my homework the weeks leading up to an exam, all I had to do was re-work them to get an easy A on my exam. My business law class allowed us to bring legal sized cheat sheets to every exam. I skipped an entire week of lectures right before an exam to go skiing and still managed to come back and get an A on the exam. My political science exams offered at least 25 bonus points on every test and the questions came straight from the book. Is this what AP classes are like? Certainly not.
I took some AP classes at WHS before deciding to joint enroll. They are incredibly difficult and it would be highly unlikely that anyone would get a 100 in them. The whole point of the classes is to challenge the best and the brightest. If the brightest were able to coast right through them, they wouldn’t be call advanced placement classes. Ask any AP teacher or student and I can assure you that they are insulted that joint enrollment classes are given the same weight as an AP class. I’ve seen both sides of the fence and I can say without any hesitation that it is unfair to AP students.
So now we’ve essentially established that is nearly impossible to get a 100 in an AP class while nearly impossible not to get a 100 in a joint enrollment class. If a student opts to take joint enrollment classes for 2 years, it makes it impossible for anyone else to compete for the title of valedictorian. In the article, Dr. Petruzielo made a comment that the current policy has been in place for ten years and never been an issue. This is simply not true. I graduated eight years ago and it was just as big of a controversy then as it seems to be now. The only reason this instance is getting more publicity is due to the egregious nature of the current situation and how the joint enrolled student has never attended classes at Etowah.
When I was a senior at WHS, there was extreme discontent amongst the top students at EHS. I grew up with those people, took gifted classes with them, and remained friends with them throughout high school. I was well aware that joint enrollment students were jumping up in class ranks at a rapid (and undeserved) rate. There were issues amongst my own graduating class, but it never got out of hand because no one could really argue that I was ’stealing’ the title from anyone. I was always at the top. I would challenge the school system to look back at the valedictorians and salutatorians over the past 10 years and see how many of those top students were joint enrolled. I don’t think the answer were come as much of a surprise.
This system needs to be changed. What is happening to Ms. Perlotto is tragic. If students are tired of high school and want to jump right in to college, go ahead and let them. But don’t give them an unfair advantage.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog