Tag Archives: boulder

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]

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Filed under Education, High school