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Decision No. 13,007

Appeal of KERRY ANN MALONEY from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Mechanicville regarding class rank.

Decision No. 13,007

(September 14, 1993)

Buchyn, O'Hare, Werner & Gallo, Esqs., attorneys for respondent, Kathryn McCary, Esq., of counsel

SOBOL, Commissioner.--Petitioner appeals from respondent's refusal to designate her valedictorian for the 1993 Mechanicville Senior High School. The appeal must be dismissed.

Following the close of the first half of the 1992-93 school year, the 1993 valedictorian and salutatorian were designated using a formula that had been in use in respondent district for many years. Based on that formula, petitioner was designated salutatorian. Petitioner, asserting that the formula employed was arbitrary, protested her designation as salutatorian and requested that she be named class valedictorian. Her request was rejected by the superintendent and respondent. This appeal ensued.

Designation as valedictorian or salutatorian of a class is a local award for which reasonable standards may be imposed by a board of education (Appeal of Kuttner, 32 Ed Dept Rep 39; Appeal of Boutrop, 27 id. 209). Respondent determines class rank based on quality points earned by a student. Quality points are assigned for each course based on the student's grade and the level of academic challenge presented by the course. The level of academic challenge is determined according to a chart provided to the students. Depending upon the difficulty of a course, a student with a high final grade may receive 4 to 7 quality points for a course. If a student has a final grade between 93 and 100, the student is awarded all the quality points available for that course. If a student has a final grade between 86 and 92, the student is awarded one less quality point than the maximum amount available. Lower final grades result in a lower number of quality points being earned.

Petitioner maintains that this system of designating class rank is arbitrary. While petitioner does not seem to challenge respondent's determination that the difficulty of a course results in awarding greater credit for that course, petitioner does contest respondent's practice of awarding the same number of quality points to all students who have a final grade within a particular range. Petitioner contends that class rank should be based solely on a student's numeric grade average.

As noted above, the determination of class rank is an issue to be determined by a local board of education and should not be altered unless it is arbitrary and irrational. The respondent's system of determining class rank, which awards the same amount of credit to all students with a final numeric grade within a particular range, is similar to the grade point average system (GPA) used by many colleges and universities in determining class rank. The rationale for such a system of marking is that such system permits a reasonable comparison of one student's achievement with another student's, even though the two students took different courses. Respondent points out that no mathematical formula for determining achievement can ever be more than an approximation since achievement cannot be precisely reduced to numbers measured in decimal points. In addition, respondent's method is also similar to the system of "zone scoring" employed by the New York State Department of Civil Service on some of its employment examinations (see McGowan v. Burstein, 71 NY2d 729). In light of the fact that respondent has supplied a rational basis for its system of determining class rank and that its method is similar to that used by many institutions of higher learning and by the New York State Department of Civil Service, I cannot conclude that respondent's policy of determining class rank is arbitrary or unreasonable.

Petitioner also contends that respondent's practice of determining valedictorian and salutatorian at the end of the first half of senior year is arbitrary and capricious and that such determination should not be made without factoring in a student's final grades for the last semester of that year. Petitioner's contention, however, ignores that role of the valedictorian and salutatorian in the graduation ceremony and the timing of that ceremony. It is not possible to base the determination of valedictorian and salutatorian on grades for the entire senior year and still meet necessary time restraints imposed in scheduling and preparing for a graduation ceremony. Indeed, because of such logistical problems, most, if not all, school districts determine their valedictorian and salutatorian prior to the end of the senior year. Accordingly, petitioner's contention on this issue is also rejected.

Petitioner further maintains that she is entitled to be designated valedictorian because respondent never notified students of its method of determining class rank and respondent's representatives supplied her with improper advice on the district's policy of determining class rank. In an appeal to the Commissioner of Education, the petitioner has the burden of establishing the facts upon which he or she seeks relief (8 NYCRR '275.10; Appeal of Negrin, 29 Ed Dept Rep 484; Appeal of Executone Northeast, Inc., 29 id. 18). Other than petitioner's bare assertions on these issues, she offers no evidence to support her contentions. In light of respondent's denial of these allegations, petitioner has failed to meet her burden of proof.

Petitioner offers new allegations and exhibits in her reply and subsequent affidavits. The purpose of a reply is to respond to procedural defenses or new material contained in an answer (8 NYCRR '275.3). A reply is not meant to buttress allegations contained in the petition or add assertions or exhibits that should have been in the petition (Appeal of Taber, et al., 32 Ed Dept Rep 346; Appeal of Mermelstein, et al., 30 id. 119). Accordingly, I have not considered the new allegations and exhibits included in petitioner's reply and subsequent affidavits.

I have considered the remaining allegations contained in the petition and find them without merit.