Honor roll, almost every school has one, and the students who earn the distinction are considered to be the cream of the crop. According to Merriam-Webster, an honor roll is “a list of students achieving academic distinction.”
Verbum Dei High School conducted its most recent honor roll award assembly on January 31. In order to determine the students qualified for the honor roll, Verbum Dei uses the scale of 3.0 to 3.39 for Dean’s List, 3.4 to 3.69 for Principal’s List, 3.7 to 3.99 for President’s List, and a 4.0 for the Scholar’s Circle. In the most recent honor roll, there were 74 students on the Dean’s List, 27 on the Principal’s List, 14 on the President’s List, and 4 in the Scholar’s Circle. In total, there were a total of 119 students in the various honor roll lists. Considering that the VDHS enrollment is around 300 students, the number of students in the combined honor roll lists is enormous. Thus, the influx of students on the honor roll raises a question: should the requirements to earn honor roll be raised?
The argument could be made that a large number of students earning honor roll through the Dean’s List, the lowest tier, lowers the value of the awards. Verbum Dei honors itself for holding “high expectations for students” which includes the “mastery of fundamental academic skills and discipline necessary for advanced education” as its website states. However, the students on the Dean’s List, at the minimum, must average a B grade in order to qualify. With so many students “achieving academic distinction” while turning in average work, are these the “high expectations” Verbum Dei holds? and Have these students really shown “mastery”?
“What they’re failing to see is that by rewarding everyone, the trophy is devalued,” states Karin Fuller in her 2011 Family Circle essay “All Is Not Fair.” “Or the certificate becomes nothing but a piece of nice paper with a pretty font.”
When students receive these “look, you’re doing what’s required awards” and earn honor roll distinction, there is an inflation of the grades, which lowers the value of the grades themselves. This is similar to inflation in economics in which the purchasing value of currency decreases while prices increase.
On the other hand, the argument could be made that the Dean’s List is actually beneficial to the student body. After conducting interviews with the majority of teachers on the campus, the consensus revolves around the idea that the Dean’s List serves as a platform to encourage students, to acknowledge, and to promote students’ academic rigor. This, some argue, is effective because the honor roll is divided into successively more impressive tiers. Thus, the raison d’etre for the Dean’s List.
Here is what several of the teachers had to say in regard to the Dean’s List:
Karen Chambers, Director of Campus Ministry:
“I think as long as those are authentic grades then that’s amazing that we have that many students on the honor roll. Obviously, on the flip side, the fear would be that perhaps there’s some grade inflation somewhere, but I don’t know what’s going on in their classrooms. I can’t speak to if it is….I don’t think it’s, ‘If you have this grade, you’re doing good.’ I think we should celebrate anybody who is working hard and getting good grades, and I think over a 3.0 shows some handwork and effort….We should also celebrate [those] who do better than that, and that’s why we have the different levels.”
EJ Vieyra, Theology Department:
“I think we should be a school where everyone could at least be in the honor roll because we’re a college prep school, and I think that is the expectation. I think, personally, if we’re not getting to the point where the majority of the kids are inching closer or at the honor roll, then there’s always room for improvement on the pedagogical end and also on the students’ end. If the average is excellence, then I don’t see a problem with that. If the kids get used to the fact that this is what they’re expected to do, that’s a good habit to have especially going into college.”
Jovanni Gonzalez, Foreign Language Department:
“I do not believe that there are too many people. Rather, I’m kind of glad there’s a lot of people within that list. The boys should be recognized for their achievements whether it’s small or big. Now that we’re talking about academic excellence and academic achievement: the more we have of that the better it is for the student body and the better it is for us as a school. It just says we’re doing something good. I think there’s always room for improvement. If a B+ – B- range isn’t where we should be or isn’t the expectation, we’ll definitely move that up, but it’s definitely a nice starting point.”
Ken Favell, English Department Chair:
“I think that’s why we have the different levels of the honor roll, so obviously there’s the Dean’s List, Principal’s List, President’s List, and then the Scholar’s Circle. It’s kind of like you have bronze, silver, and gold. It’s easier overall to win a bronze medal, though it’s still difficult. Obviously, it’s very very very difficult to earn a gold medal – you have to be the best. And I think we do a decent job in differentiating. Achieving a B, for some students that’s gonna take a lot of effort and a lot of studying and a lot of hard work in order to maintain. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that per se of honoring that, as long as that 3.0 was come by honestly.”
Dr. Brandi Odom Lucas, Chief Academic Officer:
“When I saw the list, I wasn’t concerned because I have a fundamental belief that all my students can achieve. I think that if we are concerned that maybe the rigor is too low, then that’s something the teachers need to talk about when they look at their curriculum, but my assumption is that my teachers are teaching the curriculum that they’ve been taught to teach and that curriculum is at that grade level.”
Kirsten Hochman, Social Sciences Department:
“One of the issues that I run into time and time again with many of my students is there’s always that small percentage of kids who are at skill level if not above skill level, which is amazing, but I also have a large population of kids who are not at skill level. Kids can tell if other kids are better at things than they are. Adults – we know the same thing – we have a feeling in the situation when someone is better at something than we are, but as adults, we’re used to that. Kids have a harder time with that, and kids who tend to be skill deficient or behind in some skill walk into a learning situation with lower confidence and a feeling of inadequacy. Many have quoted themselves as saying, ‘Oh I’m stupid, I can’t do this,” and so what I appreciate of the way that the honor roll is run, I don’t look at it as a participation award, but kids are looking at the honor roll as perhaps they have a shot at that, and so it’s easier to appeal to a student to get him to work at little harder, to do the work, in order to build the skill level to improve.”
Sam McGrath, Theology Department:
“The main thing is not the amount of kids, but if the rigor is still there to get a 3.0. My thoughts would be if you have a lot of kids on the Dean’s List, you need to analyze the rigor, the standards, but maybe you stop honoring it at the assembly. It’s a tough spot though, you’d like it to be a motivation for kids, so instead of honoring the top two or three students as good and great; that would be a little demoralizing if you were in the 2.7, 2.9 range. The flip side is if everyone is awarded, what’s the point? If half the school is getting Dean’s List, and the standards aren’t even that good. What’s more important? Is it more important to form the individual, challenge the person, or is the most important thing to get on the Dean’s List?”
Maria McDonald, Dean:
“The whole objective here is academic scholarship, and if you’re achieving a 3.0, you should be honored and acknowledged for your efforts. The objective for the student is – even if he is on the Dean’s List – don’t just sit there in the comfort of 3.0 or 3.39, but try to work your way up [to the other tiers].”
Overall, there are three solutions that can be formulated from this dilemma:
In the easiest case, the Dean’s List is kept, which continues the encouragement and platform on which to acknowledge students that teachers find beneficial.
Another potential solution, more on the other side of the argument, to this situation is completely eliminating the Dean’s List. By completely getting rid of the Dean’s List, the value of the other awards are raised as the overall amount of students receiving them has decreased. Also, the rigor and standards in order to qualify for the honor roll increase.
However, a solution that satisfies both sides is possible. The Dean’s List could be kept, but the minimum GPA should be raised to 3.2. In the taking the third option, the benefits of a platform to encourage and acknowledge remain, but the expectations for the honor roll are raised.