GPA, Valedictorian, and Salutatorian proposed to be removed in 2021

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GPA, Valedictorian, and Salutatorian proposed to be removed in 2021

Westford Academy is ranked #22 among public high schools in Eastern MA.

Westford Academy is ranked #22 among public high schools in Eastern MA.

Westford Academy is ranked #22 among public high schools in Eastern MA.

Westford Academy is ranked #22 among public high schools in Eastern MA.

Srinithi Raj and Keertana Gangireddy

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In an effort to reduce student stress, the Challenge Success committee is considering changing the GPA system and removing the recognition of valedictorian and salutatorian.

With the advent of Challenge Success two years ago, Principal James Antonelli and WA faculty have implemented new ideas to alleviate student stressors. They have already reduced homework to 30 minutes per night for each class, the passing times have increased by one minute, and no homework is to be given during vacations.

The GPA and academic title changes were also put up in the air when Challenge Success first started, but have recently have been considered more seriously. On Thursday, March 14, Antonelli presented the freshman class with a Challenge Success slideshow, in which two of the ideas discussed entailed the GPA and academic title changes. Those changes, if implemented, would be established after the graduation of the class of 2020. 

As for the reasoning behind those two changes, Antonelli believes that GPA and the titles of valedictorian and salutatorian cause much stress for both students and families. With their removal, he feels as though students will feel less pressured to push themselves to unreasonable limits and compare themselves with one another. 

In addition, he believes the removal would likely reduce scenarios in which students take a multitude of AP and honors classes beyond their ability and bring more stress upon themselves simply to increase GPA and bolster one’s chances to be recognized as a top student. 

As an alternative, Antonelli is proposing recognizing the top ten high-achieving students in the senior class, replacing the traditional commemoration of two students, in an effort to reduce the pressure placed on seniors competing for the two positions.

Moreover, contrary to the widespread student idea that GPA and academic titles are part of all schools, especially schools that are generally compared with WA, such as Newton South and Acton-Boxborough, the truth is that many DCL schools do not have the GPA or academic title systems. According to Antonelli, some time ago, they too went through the same process WA is currently undergoing, and eradicated those practices.

“We did survey just recently with all the DCL schools, Dual County Schools, a group of schools that we compare ourselves to such as Acton-Boxborough and Newton South. [There] was only one school that had salutatorian and valedictorian. I was amazed because I thought we’d maybe be two or three of the schools that were going to get away from those practices, and that a lot more schools is still had it, but it was the opposite. That was really kind of eye-opening to me,” said Antonelli.

Another incentive for the removal: the Challenge Success committee learned through surveys and college visits that colleges recalculate a student’s GPA once more during the application process, essentially ignoring a student’s school GPA.

“We’ve done a lot of research in regards to what colleges do, and we found out that most of the colleges recalculate GPA based on knowing the strength of the school and based on other schools that they’re comparing Westford Academy to. So, in a sense, it’s an activity that we do, but it’s something that we don’t have to hold on to, and we could just rely on how colleges take a look at our overall student,” Antonelli said.

The proposed changes have brought up controversy among students and staff at WA, earning mixed opinions on the matter.

Some believe that the removal of GPA will mitigate the stress of trying to maintain a high GPA.

“My interpretation of this is, what we’re trying to reduce in general is student stress. I’ve seen freshmen freaking about about a single assignment because they think it’s going to impact their overall GPA, and therefore their whole life is over and they’re going to die and collapse into a puddle. I think that is very unhealthy in general, so I see that as being a function of this change. I know there are schools and prestigious schools that have done this, and those students have still gone to college, and still have a future, and still survived,” English teacher Meghan Oelerich said.

Some, on the other hand, believe that the change will not negatively or positively impact the students, especially how one feels about him or her self.

“Personally, I don’t think there’s going to be such a big difference because high schoolers are going to compare [themselves] with each other no matter what, and GPA is just a standard of comparison with other students, so getting rid of it won’t change things that much. I feel like people really want [the roles of either valedictorian and salutatorian] as it is something common to so many high schools. [Getting rid of] it might take away from Westford Academy, since people feel proud [of the accomplishment],” senior Niharika Kaushik said.

Additionally, one of the largest concerns is how the change will impact the college application process, and how much a student can gauge their options if they do not have a GPA.

“I think getting rid of GPA is a very bad idea, since colleges around the U.S. are still going to have GPA systems, and if our school gets rid of it, it’s not going to change anything and [colleges] are still going to calculate it when you actually apply to the college. So if people are aware of their GPA and where they stand right now, then it’s going to benefit them in the long run,” freshman Nikita Ang said.

Despite these feelings, these changes are not final yet. According to Antonelli, there’s still a long way to go to implement these changes, and many more individuals to consult.

“When we went out to Stanford, one of the things that the people leading the cause there said trying to change the direction of a school is like trying to move a big ship, making a big shift change, it takes a lot of time to move that big ship,” Antonelli said.

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