Valedictorians by the wayside?

School districts in Boulder, Colorado will no longer be awarding valedictorian status to their top high school graduates, starting in 2010:

The district’s high schools used grade-point averages to determine the honor, but the top students were sometimes separated by just hundredths of a grade point, leading to complaints. Officials also worried students were focusing on heavyweight academic classes at the expense of arts and other electives.

Let that sink in: They’re worried that students are focusing too much on academic courses.

“We have a responsibility and a goal of educating the whole child and not just coming up with this race for tenths of a percentage,” said school board President Helayne Jones. “High school is supposed to be a time to try things out.”

Boulder Valley had previously abolished class rankings to reduce “unhealthy competition,” and the committee said keeping the valedictorian system no longer made sense.

Under the system recommended by the committee, the top 20 percent of students will get honors—with the top 3 percent earning summa cum laude, the next 7 percent magna cum laude and the remaining 10 percent cum laude.

“This honors more kids for academic achievement,” said Fairview High School Principal Don Stensrud, who co-chaired the committee. “It gives kids something to strive for.”

So, striving is OK but competition is not OK. I await word from the Boulder school distrcts about their dismantling of the athletics and band programs too, since those also encourage competition.

This is all obviously nonsensical hand-wringing on the part of the Boulder schools, which apparently would rather students take more art rather than more math and science and not compete with each other in hopes of some vague and homogeneous commune-like happiness among its kids.

But Boulder may yet have a point here. The current trend in high schools is that more and more students are clustering at the top of the class rankings, resulting in absurd numbers of “top students”, thereby perpetuating the Lake Wobegon Effect. One Seattle-area high school crowned 44 out of 406 seniors as the valedictorian — a 44-way tie for first place. The valedictorian award is supposed to distinguish the top-performing student at a high school; if that award is shared by 11% of the graduating class, then it really doesn’t mean anything any more.

[Hat tip: Homeschool 2.0]


Filed under Education, High school

6 responses to “Valedictorians by the wayside?

  1. 11% at the top? Sounds like something I heard at the beginning of the year – “All of our students will be above average”. We math teachers were a bit confused as to how we’re supposed to do this – keep the median the same, but move half of the students to the other side. Anyone have an idea on that one?

    One of my students who graduated last year really wanted to take an art class at some point. However, her parents wouldn’t let her as it wasn’t weighted as an honors class and would therefore “ruin” her class rank. The pressure that was put upon her to excel was incredible. She graduated #1 in her class and is studying engineering at a prestigious university. I’m worried though that she is going to implode from the pressure placed upon her. Students do need some type of balance.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for students taking as many academically challenging courses as possible (especially math and science). I am just concerned when parents and counselors put so much pressure on students that they aren’t allowed to be kids too. However, I think there is a better way than eliminating class rank. Can’t there be a valedictorian and still recognize the efforts of those who have truly excelled?

  2. The cum laude system that Boulder is talking about does make a certain amount of sense — you reward legitimate academic achievement that way without placing so much emphasis on who is first, second, etc. This is of course the way colleges have been doing it since forever. And from the college’s standpoint we don’t really care so much if you were tops in your class, but we care a lot if you have legitimate academic credentials coming in.

  3. Yep, this is what I tell my kids. The college admissions people won’t really care if your #2 or #40, as long as you’ve taken challenging classes, done well, and learned to learn. Sadly, some don’t believe me. Now those kids that are #325? I tried telling them…

  4. Uhhgh. All that is wrong with public schools wrapped up in one tidy package. The feel-good, pop-psychology. The competition squashing, mediocracy rewarding, hand-wringers have taken over. And in my Seattle, no less!

    Oh well. That is why we homeschool. We know that excellence is still the ticket to success regardless of what the schools teach.

    My wife and I graduated our boys from homeschool high school last year. Now we encourage parents to homeschool all the way through high school. Both my boys were awarded full tuition scholarships to the same university in the same year (ages 16 and 18). We have a website with lots of great resources for homeschooling parents, including a free monthly newsletter. Check those out at our site.

    Keep up the good work!


  5. OldFogey

    I graduated from a faculty brat high school 40 years ago. In my class, 10% of the class were Merit Scholarship Finalists or Letter of Commendation winners- which goes to 2% of the nation. We had no valedictorians, nor did we feel the lack of same.

  6. We have #1, #2, and then just unranked GPAs. Doesn’t hide the level of achievement, but doesn’t encourage kids to claw their way from #17 to #15. Our honor rolls, too, we give them different names, honors, high honors, principal’s honors, but each one is a list (and not ranked within). We don’t take away the achievement piece, nor pretend that all achieve at the same level, but we do deemphasize the competition.

    We do have kids choose courses based on weighting, but not too many.