Proposal to Streamline BHS Honor Roll Fizzles

June 15, 2023

The School Council at Bedford High School this week failed to persuade the School Committee to modify the parameters of the academic honor roll.

The proposal to eliminate the second and third honor-roll tiers, leaving a single list based on numerical grades in at least four major subjects resulting in a grade-point average of at least 90, was presented to the committee on Tuesday. The issue was addressed in the context of proposed changes to the student handbook, which require School Committee approval.

After a lengthy discussion, the committee never took a vote – because a motion to accept the streamlined version was not seconded.

Superintendent of Schools Philip Conrad, at his final School Committee before retiring later this month, tried to cobble a compromise. 

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“My concern is with the smaller number in the lower tiers,” he said. “What is the benefit of separating? What I think I’m hearing is that the students don’t know what the benefit is. Perhaps we try this for a year and see how people feel then.”

But no one took the baton on his effort to reconcile the two sides.

The current cutoff for the designation “first honors” is a grade-point average of 90. The second tier recognizes students with a grade-point average of 88 or 89, and third honors cover 85-87. 

“We are actually suggesting that fewer students be recognized,” said BHS Principal Heather Galante, noting that some students feel that the lower tiers can be “humiliating.”

 “What we heard loud and clear was making sure we are really highlighting the folks who went above and beyond.”

Assistant Principal Dan Hudder reported on the results of a survey of 326 BHS students, most of them in grades 9-11. Although the honor roll is an important motivator for a majority of respondents, almost half didn’t care about tiers and a third preferred a single list. He added that “folks didn’t feel too strongly” about the honor roll grade thresholds.

Hudder also displayed a bar graph demonstrating that the January honor roll for seniors was top-heavy with first honors – more than half of the 200 members of the class of 2023. There were 26 seniors in second honors and 21 in third honors.

He shared comments from survey respondents that favored changing the structure. 

  • “We don’t need a magnifying glass on us,” said a ninth-grade student. 
  • A junior said third honors highlight students who are struggling. 
  • Added an 11th grader, “Grades are not a comprehensive idea of how well a student is doing.”

Three students representing the council spoke in favor of the change. Shreyes Shivappa told the committee that the fact that “people feel bad about it, have some issues with it, and are losing confidence” should be acknowledged. Vivian Liu commented, “Having multiple tiers is something that was thoughtful but definitely is not perceived by students in the way it was intended.” Tova Yerardi added that the tiered honor roll “can be harmful to one’s confidence.”

Reactions by School Committee members ranged from skeptical to unconvinced. 

Sarah McGinley said for some students, third honors represent achievement. She wondered how those students perceive the proposed change. Galante replied that the proposed change originated three years ago from a student with a history of second and third tiers.

Dan Brosgol stated, “I don’t think we are solving a problem that needs solving.” When Hudder pointed out that “we heard tiers two and three don’t feel like honors; they feel like humiliation. The kids are speaking very clearly to us.” But Brosgol maintained that “the majority of students are not asking for this.” 

The proposed change emanated from the School Council, Galante pointed out. After the proposal to drop the honor roll was not supported a year ago, council members – parents, students, and teachers – were “very passionate about bringing this back.”

Sheila Mehta-Green pointed out, “There could have been an opportunity to get some parent feedback on this.” Student quotes selected only reflected one side, she added. Galante responded that there were no comments in support of keeping tiers.

Kim Howell, the non-voting member who represents military families on the committee, said that there is “a culture of extreme academic success here. Clearly, students are very concerned about their grades.” And that can be “a little disheartening to families coming from other districts,” where even an 85 or an 88 is considered successful.

“We might be missing out,” she continued, by “excluding students who may be significantly challenged due to circumstances beyond their control. Let’s not lose those B students.” She added that several military parents “are frustrated about how to be part of these things. I can’t imagine we are very well represented right now.” Galante noted that one of the parents on the BHS School Council is stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base.

McGinley asked about retaining multiple tiers and raising the grade thresholds. Galante said at the council meetings, “We had lots of conversations around this. Their real desire is to have one honor roll.”

“Clearly, this has been debated and talked about at the high school a lot. I value the school council voice,” said Sarah Scoville, adding, “I also hear about the kid who goes from C to B and that’s a huge accomplishment. This is a really tough decision.”

Mehta-Green acknowledged that “different people get different motivations. Some kids are humiliated, but probably an equal amount feel this is something they really worked hard at. They shouldn’t be denied that opportunity.” Galante said the earlier proposal for a single honor roll was based on an average of at least 85, but Mehta-Green thought that threshold dilutes the honor for A students.

After Scoville’s motion was not seconded, committee Chair Brad Morrison announced the outcome and said to the council members, “You should interpret that as you see fit.”

Galante closed by thanking School Council members. “I just feel badly and acknowledge their efforts and commitments to this. I think they have the students’ best interests at heart.”

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