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How the end of graduation’s GPA segregated seating might help curb West Ranch’s elitism and GPA-centrism

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Our Most Valuable Students

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In the hallway of the administration building is a collection of photographs of every graduating class since West Ranch’s first in 2008. In the foreground of each photo is the shining emblem of the gold robes. Since the school’s opening, graduating students have been seated and dressed separately based on their grade point averages. Those with a cumulative GPA of 4.00 or higher have been dressed in gold and placed in the front of the crowd — until now.

 

The class of 2019 will be the first of West Ranch to graduate without GPA-segregated seating, although it will keep the gold robes. Principal Mark Crawford said, “We are looking at seating everyone [alphabetically] and if you earned a gold robe, great, but we are not going to try to separate everybody.”

 

This change is a long time in the making; there has been talk and debate for quite some time that the segregated seating stratifies elitism and GPA-centrism at West Ranch.

 

“It sucks if you’re a blue robe and you’re in the back, and then the gold robe is in the front and you feel less than the gold robe. So now you’re mixed so you don’t really feel like you’re secluded from the ‘smarter’ ones,” explained senior Grace Waterman.

 

One must also understand what constitutes eligibility for a gold robe: GPA. That might seem a logical measurement, but let’s consider what it is not measured by: letter grades. That distinction becomes important when we factor in Advanced Placement, Honor, and College of the Canyons classes. All of these types of classes are weighted on a 5.0 grading scale rather than on a 4.0 grading scale. This means that a student can load their schedule with AP classes and do comparatively worse than a student in a regular class, yet still get a 4.0. This encourages students to fill up their schedule with AP, Honors, and COC classes they aren’t really that interested in, and this in turn provokes gross GPA inflation.

 

“It’s kids taking the higher level classes which are able to get them above that 4.0. It tweaks students’ perspectives on what is a quote-on-quote ‘good student’ because grades are not the end-all-be-all, and then students that are involved in other things that are not weighted start questioning if they should stay involved because it’s going to lower their GPA. Its a measure, but its not the end-all-be-all,” said counselor Mrs. Cazan.

 

The idea of ‘the gold robe’ holds an enormous amount of pressure over students’ heads. For some students, achieving a 4.0 requires little effort and simply comes naturally. For others, even working their hardest, a 3.0 is their best. And both are completely acceptable. Gold robes promote the idea that a 4.0 is the sole definition of academic success. While students who maintain these stellar grades deserve recognition for their hard work, students who have worked just as hard, might not have been able to achieve the same marks.

 

It’s true that many students who receive the gold robe do so in a fair and honorable manner, but we would be naive to ignore that some of these kids make their way to the top through cheating. This then leaves those who did not resort to such measures feeling even worse. Further, the idea of the gold robe intensifies a student’s desire to cheat in order to get better grades. Since the robe status is held in such high regards, students feel a need to do more than they can realistically accomplish. As competition, pressure and stress spike, so does cheating.

 

Cazan wants to combat this issue through passionate learning rather than pointed goals towards structured success. “My job and a lot of educators’ on this campus goal is the love of learning and what are you going to do after high school and start thinking about personal growth,” said Cazan.

 

Administration and teachers understand the GPA epidemic which plagues West Ranch, but it is a hard problem to tackle because it involves colleges, and if anything makes high schoolers crazy, it is college. Especially when a boost in GPA can translate to an acceptance letter or thousands of dollars in scholarships.

 

“How do I tell a family that maybe doesn’t have the means [to afford college] ‘no you can’t [take higher-level classes just] because it gives you a GPA bump?’” Principal Crawford suggested.

 

As much as the problem of GPA is critical at West Ranch, perhaps it is one that doesn’t need to be solved — at least for now. The alphabetical seating at graduation will for now reduce the sense of elitism that comes with GPA. Perhaps the solution is not eliminating GPA-boosts and competition, but simply making the rewards of those efforts personally fulfilling. If a student wants to boost their GPA for college or scholarship application, that’s fine, but there is no reason that they should be donned in gold.

 

“Understanding that some kids have worked really hard,” said Principal Crawford, “the idea of [not having] gold robes is maybe a discussion we have, but that would be one I would need to have starting with a class that comes in from the beginning.”

 

That means that the class of 2023 will be the first to possibly graduate without gold robes completely. For now though, students will still have the chance to earn the coveted garment, but it may not be long until all students can feel equally well about the greatest achievement of their life thus far: graduating high school.  

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