Who’s No. 1 in the class? Some local schools don’t care.

Some local schools aren't ranking their graduates so there is no valedictorian. (AJC/file photo)

Some local schools aren't ranking their graduates so there is no valedictorian. (AJC/file photo)

In a subscriber-only story recently, the AJC looked at the trend away from naming valedictorians. (I can’t link to the AJC piece as it did not run online. But next week, the op-ed page will have a pro/con on this topic that will run online.)

I have written a lot about this in connection with the recent Georgia flaps about who won the No. 1 slot in various high schools.

In this news story, AJC reporter D. Aileen Dodd writes about why a few schools, typically private, have moved away from naming valedictorians while most still hold onto the tradition.

She wrote:

These schools, mostly private and some public, say they buck the tradition so students will be motivated to get good grades because that’s what they should do as scholars, not to attain the rewards of a high rank.

The prevailing philosophy in education, however, is to reward students for hard work. The title of valedictorian remains the top prize at most high schools. Georgia valedictorians not only get a resume booster, they also get a full ride to state schools under the HOPE Scholarship. The competition to be valedictorian can pit classmates against each other in a race to rack up A’s and extra credits.

At Gwinnett County Public Schools, 9,843 students are slated to graduate from 21 high schools. At Fulton Schools, more than 5,000 are expected to graduate from 16 high schools. Cobb Schools expects 7,500 seniors from 16 schools. At Walton High the race is “neck and neck” between a pair of seniors headed to Harvard and Yale, said Anne Carlson, department chair of guidance.

At Marist School, valedictorian Madeleine Ward has a 4.303 grade point average. The salutatorian has a 4.302.

Those who don’t choose valedictorians say it eliminates close calls and other controversies. Last year in Cherokee County, when Etowah High declared two students co-valedictorians, only one showed up for graduation. The student with the technically higher GPA stayed home rather than share the spotlight.

This school year, accusations of racism were raised by local civil rights leaders when a valedictorian tie was announced at Gainesville High School and was supported by the school board. The student with the higher GPA, Cody Stephens, who is African-American, eventually emerged as valedictorian after the other student bowed out.

Still, a small but growing number of public schools in Illinois and Arizona have nixed the tradition. In 2007, Hinsdale Central High, a school in an affluent Chicago suburb, eliminated class rankings and later valedictorians. Not having a class rank won’t count against students for college admissions. And being a valedictorian doesn’t always assure admission at top colleges, said Miriam Parker, founder of College Counseling Center of Atlanta. “Some of the very selective schools have many valedictorians who apply. Not all of them get accepted.”

Paul Massari, a spokesman for Harvard said the prestigious university considers class rank “as an achievement, ” but less important than grades, test scores and extracurricular activities.

The Paideia School in Atlanta also does not rank students or single out the best at graduation. “People who want to do well in school work hard for a lot of reasons. … To motivate them one does not need a single carrot at the end of the game, ” said Paul Bianchi, headmaster. “When you are ranking people all of the time it can have a depressing effect on everyone else. What we ought to be doing is encouraging everyone to excel.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog


83 comments Add your comment

resno2

June 1st, 2012
5:29 am

There it is…“When you are ranking people all of the time it can have a depressing effect on everyone else.” Diplomas are becoming nothing more than participation medals.

MrTyTn

June 1st, 2012
6:18 am

Does anyone still read “Animal Farm?”

Ernest

June 1st, 2012
6:23 am

Not naming a valedictorian means students at those schools will lose eligibility for the Governor’s scholarship, assuming they want to attend a public or private college or university in Georgia Why should anyone leave dollars on the table? This scholarship is also awarded to the STAR student. Hopefully those schools won’t stop recognizing that honor also.

Here is information about the Governor’s scholarship:

http://www.scholarships.com/financial-aid/college-scholarships/scholarships-by-state/georgia-scholarships/georgia-governors-scholarship/

Road Scholar

June 1st, 2012
6:48 am

Yeah, we are really preparing our students/graduates for the “real” world, aren’t we? Not winning won’t ever happen again in their lives, whether it is getting a job, keeping a job, or achieving , will it?

DeborahinAthens

June 1st, 2012
6:58 am

If winning isn’t important, why keep score? And believe me, when these pampered darlings who have always won a medal just for showing up at a T-ball game and a certificate of participation in class get out into the real world, they are going to be crushed! And rightfully so. I have started watching the HBO series, Girls, and while it has a lot of sex the running “theme” is that the main character cannot compete in the world. Her parents, who coddled her her whole life, have cut off their financial support. The final straw was when she, seriously, told them that she just needed them to give her $1100 a month. Her parents are college professors, looking to retire. To see the realization they have raised a money sucking monster is hilarious. Since that episode, she has already lost two more jobs. Competition is good because it makes people do their best. If you reward mediocrity that is what you get.

Ann

June 1st, 2012
7:04 am

I have mixed feelings about this trend. As long as GA awards scholarships based on the ranking, then as Ernest says….why leave that on the table?
On the flip side, I have worked with schools whose students work HARD to protect that GPA and dodge the more rigorous courses which really goes against my feeling that we do a terrible job of encouraging intellectual curiosity and exploring subject areas outside the comfort zone. Where better to do this than high school? In college it becomes too late and too expensive to do much exploring.

Ann

June 1st, 2012
7:06 am

Clarifying – I am sad that we don’t encourage the intellectual curious student! Schools make it difficult for students to take courses that don’t fit their track. I didn’t word that well earlier!

Howard Finkelstein

June 1st, 2012
7:19 am

Mediocrity rules the day. Its no wonder schools are producing an ever increasing amount of losers.

bootney farnsworth

June 1st, 2012
7:24 am

stupid, stupid, stupid

is it any wonder the public has no faith in us?

Eric

June 1st, 2012
7:25 am

Awarding the “Val” is neither good nor bad. What I wish we could change is this dreadful competitive mindset of the “real world” and transform society to a “cooperation” mindset. World would be a happier place to live in.

Howard Finkelstein

June 1st, 2012
7:26 am

Typical socialism. We must ALL remember we are no better than the most dumb person amongst us. All bow and worship the State, the motherland, from which we came and who is responsible for all.

ALL HAIL THE STATE!!

bootney farnsworth

June 1st, 2012
7:28 am

“Civil rights leaders” find “racism” in every aspect of life which does not go their way.
which is why “racism” is a toothless charge these days.

just thinking about it puts me a in “black mood”

dcb

June 1st, 2012
7:57 am

To name a valedictorian or not. To rank kids or not. Strictly a philosophy and one that no school develops without much study, discussion, and deliberation. For parents in disagreement with their local public school’s stance on the topic, there are steps available to effect change. For parents who feel time is of the essence and they cannot wait thus requiring a need to “shop” for public school alternatives, all accredited private school’s philosophy should be obvious, in the forefront of the School’s publications, and practiced consistent through all of the school’s programs. Choice is a great thing and still an American trademark. In the Atlanta area, parents feeling his or her child will be best prepared for life by experiencing a competitive academic environment resulting in ranking and the naming of a valedictorian, the answer is simple. Don’t apply to a school with a contrary philosophy. There are many other excellent options out there.

school_is_home

June 1st, 2012
8:02 am

Absolutely people still read “Animal Farm”. I grabbed a copy at my library’s used book sale and it was part of the curriculum this year (as was “Of Mice and Men”). We will be re-reading these gems every 2-3 years, so that the understanding that comes with maturity may be applied to these important lessons repeatedly. The other staples are “The Old Man and the Sea”, “A House for Mr. Biswas” and “Miguel Street”. Unfortunately, when left to select mine will pick Shel Silverstein over Shakespeare, but hey, at least they’re reading.

Rank the kids, it’s not a single carrot at the end of the stick. I’ve worked at up and out companies whose lifeblood depending on groups of strangers flying into the same city, sitting in little rooms and making great things happen for clients – co-operation at it’s finest. Then you’d return to your home office on Friday afternoon near the end of your project to learn how your project manager had ranked you, which directly affected how your direct manager was going to rank you. Those ranked at the bottom were regularly invited to leave or forced out.
We must teach them to compete AND co-operate.

Dunwoody Mom

June 1st, 2012
8:16 am

Tough topic for sure. It was easier in my day to determine Val (did we even do a Sal, I can’t remember). All students took the same classes, there were not gifted vs general nor were there such things as Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

Now, things are not so clear. One could have a student with a 4.00 taking general classes and a 4.00 with honors and AP classes. So, to go stricly by GPA to “rank” seems a little out of date – JMHO.

GNGS

June 1st, 2012
8:18 am

Students compete in sports and they get ranked. What is wrong with ranking everyone academically if we care about learning more than sports?

my own two cents

June 1st, 2012
8:29 am

The article has some inaccuracies. The Governor’s Scholarship was cut in 2009. HOPE pays for tuition only, it does not pay for neither books (about $800-$1000 / semester ), housing, nor the meal plan at UGA. My child was the valedictorian of his class and we still pay around $3000 a year for what HOPE does not pay for. Far from a “full ride”.

ABSOLUTELY a school should name a valedictorian and salutatorian. It gives students a goal to work towards and rewards academic achievement. Most schools weigh more rigorous courses heavier in GPA. It is not a perfect system, but it works well and has worked for a long time. Why change it?

my own two cents

June 1st, 2012
8:32 am

Let me clarify, the Valedictorian scholarship was cut in 2009, not the Governor’s scholarship.

Dunwoody Mom

June 1st, 2012
8:32 am

@my own two cents, many school districts still go by the “unweighted” GPA when determining Val/Sal.

jd

June 1st, 2012
8:38 am

The really smart kids are leaving the state for better scholarship offers — Just ask the valedictorians who go to the Governor’s mansion where they are going…

Csoby

June 1st, 2012
8:47 am

How government Schools shape our culture…there are those who excell and there are those who struggle…We should always acknowledge excellant and those who do not obtain it need to work harder…no I did not come close to valedictorian status, but on anything I do, I give it my all,,but the school system wants to give it with no effort…another case for dumping government out of the schools

Ed Johnson

June 1st, 2012
8:48 am

@Eric,

There is hope for cooperation. Maureen’s excerpt of the article omits the article’s last paragraph, which is:

Gordon Mathis, upper learning principal at Galloway, said one student posted notes for an Advanced Placement class online so everyone could use them instead of “getting ahead at the cost of other people.”

Bill

June 1st, 2012
8:54 am

Never mind about learning, it is all about winning. I am pleased than all of my three children chose to follow their interests, instead of chasing gpa honors. No valedictorian or salutatorian, but I think they were happier for it. And, they have all done quite well since high school.

Maureen Downey

June 1st, 2012
8:59 am

@Jd, This has come up before and someone who attended the function at one point said most were staying in-state. A statistic that I have heard is that 75 percent of the kids who scored 1,500 or higher on the SAT — on the old scoring where 1,600 was a perfect score — used to attend college out of state. Since HOPE, that has reversed and those high scorers stay in state. When you see the average SATs now for both UGA and Tech, they are in the range of the average scores at the top privates.
Maureen.

Anonmom

June 1st, 2012
8:59 am

I think it’s foolish to not keep score when the kids are little… the kids know how to keep score and they do… they absolutely need to learn how to lose, gracefully… just as they need to learn how to win and how to want to win, gracefully. Val and Sal are important honors for the kids to strive for but I think it’s necessary for the schools to weight honors and AP classes over general classes in determining rank and GPA — between my own experience (where I was 13 in my class of 313 instead of 4 or 5 because honors classes were not ranked, and my kids’ experiences in 3 different local high schools) — some which weight and some which don’t weight, some weight for national honor society and some weight for NHS and some don’t — I feel that it is critical that the kids be given that weighted credit for the more challenging course load (e.g. 5 points for honors and 7 points for AP and address joint enrollment — maybe the classes don’t count? I’m not familiar enough with the way they work to offer any suggestions here maybe they’re like honors or AP) against the kids in general classes. Then many of the issues that have happened on the val/sal front would have shaken out without any controversy at all.

Anonmom

June 1st, 2012
9:10 am

Here’s another interesting tidbit on this front that I heard when my 2010 son graduated and about 12 of his friends headed to GA Tech from our top public HS –a few of them had parents who were professors there who gave a “how to succeed at Tech” seminar for these kids (a few of whom are really doing quite well as rising juniors)– one of the parents (a terrific professor) noted that the public school kids are at a disadvantage over private school kids because the top public school kids learn to strive for the “A” which can be an 89.59 and then translates to a 4.0 (weighted to a 5.0 for AP) whereas at many of the top private schools, the kids get hard number grades — it is what it is and the transcript reflects the hard number received and then the weighted average used for rank, honors and val/sal, etc. The private school kids, then know where they are “at” based on hard number (gpa) earned and there’s no way to “game it” based on an 89.6 across the board. This professor went on to explain that at Tech (and as my son has seen in his engineering program out of state also at a state school) — everything is curved to a mid-point C — and the kids have no idea what the hard number “C” will be — it could be an 89 or it could be a 40 on any graded assignment or test or final — and for the kids who are used to “gaming it” at an 89.6 — they have no idea what’s hit them when they get to the hard curve. It was an interesting report/analysis. I’m so grateful for the hard curve for my child at the moment…. but it’s no fun when you’re used to being at the top and get curved down (which I experienced in grad school and which you hear reports from at schools like Princeton and Davidson).

Tom

June 1st, 2012
9:12 am

The controversy here in Gainesville was a travesty with a self-absorbed mother doing her best to tear down a community with the assistance of the civil rights charlatans. The principal, who was also African-American and passed away due to cancer later in the school year, followed the rules on the books in determining the co-valedictorians and was eviscerated as an Uncle Tom by the local black community. One of the most shameful aspects about it was it put the son, an upright, serious student of high character, in an awkward position because he did not share his mother’s concern about the honor. It’s situations like this that allow me to sympathize with districts that choose not to distinguish between top students; one is always courting controversy when declaring someone or something better than another. Sadly though it also only accelerates our race to mediocrity because “everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super… no one will be.”

Ashley

June 1st, 2012
9:37 am

As longs as school reap praise and awards on students who play sports, Val/Sal should be honored. All year long we see and read about a mediocre student who is applauded for his or her athletic ability. Why shouldn’t a student with academic excellence be recognized for their accomplishments? Furthermore if AP courses are offered they should be added to the 4.00 gpa. These students should be honored for going the extra mile. 40 years ago there weren’t that many AP courses taught in my high-school. Calculus and Accounting 101 were offer but you had to commute to the local university, and you had to have a 3.7 to take them . Choosing a Valedictorian was pretty daunting even back then, the four students who had the highest gpa each gave a commencement speech on a selected topic, and they all receive their Valedictorian medal…….I was just as happy with my NHS pin.

Cleo

June 1st, 2012
9:39 am

I work in a school district in which the elementary students are not given actual number/letter grades. Instead, they earn a number that correlates with emerging, progressing, or mastered. Parents have NO idea where their children are performing. This ridiculous grading system is another way for us to make sure every student feels successful. There are really no negative connotations attached to any of the designations. I just don’t understand this “feel good” mentality. This valedictorian issue boils down to the same premise. There can be no winners or losers in life.

Sensationalistic

June 1st, 2012
9:43 am

Sal and Val can hang around. But I think people should always included what percentile they were in according to their peers. We do it for all the other tests.

Example: I was 5th in a 105 person graduating class. So, instead of telling people I was 5th, I just say I was in the top 5%. That allows a more fair comparison to larger “top” public schools of 450+ people.

My (possibly) future child is in the top 25 people at a large public school? I am fine with that.

Dunwoody Mom

June 1st, 2012
9:43 am

I would like to know thoughts of some Val/Sal’s. Did you try to excel with the thought of possibly being a Val/Sal, in otherwords, was that your goal or did you excell because you had a higher goal?

another aps teacher

June 1st, 2012
9:46 am

@Tom: Why were their two valedictorians if one had a higher GPA? For those of us who don’t know the inside story it looks as though Gainesville did not want an African-American to be recognized as having the highest average. And everyone should realize that African-Americans have seen insidious racism time and again when it comes to being cheated out of an honor that has been earned. If people would read history they might not be so shocked at the accusations of racism. What are the rules on the books about co-valedictorians? And how can one have co anything if they are not matched equally, point for point?

Sensationalistic

June 1st, 2012
9:46 am

@Cleo: I got U’s “(Unsatisfactory) in elementary school. Taking home a report card (of course in bold red ink) with those things to the parents is enough punishment.

MasterBobby

June 1st, 2012
9:53 am

I graduated last in my class and things have not improved. I am always the last person in line at the coffee shop, grocery store and the cafeteria. I am probably the last peron to make a comment on this subject. Please let me be first for once in my life. I gotta go before someone takes the last doughnut… uh oh too late again.

Howard Finkelstein

June 1st, 2012
9:55 am

“getting ahead at the cost of other people.”

At the cost of other people. So everyone is responsible for everyone. HogWash. Ever heard the term brainwashing?

Old Physics Teacher

June 1st, 2012
10:04 am

People try and try and try to do everything they can to deny the existence of the “normal distribution curve” rather that admit it is real and just deal with it. Thus endeth the lesson.

skipper

June 1st, 2012
10:21 am

Next thing you know, they will be promoting students to the next grade who haven’t earned it…..uh oh, my bad! They’re doing that now!!!!!!!!

Tonya C.

June 1st, 2012
10:24 am

I would rather they have magna cum laude and summa cum laude as the colleges do. But if we aren’t going to do that, the Val/Sal should stay. Competition is a part of human nature and their is nothing wrong for striving to be the best. Their seems to be a real taste for the mediocre in education today so it’s refreshing to see those that want the best for themselves.

Inman Park Boy

June 1st, 2012
10:27 am

Why do modern Americans shy away from recognizing excellence? What are we afraid of? The whole “everyone gets a trophy” mentality is harmful to our culture.

Formerteacher

June 1st, 2012
10:29 am

Once you’ve graduated high school and gone on to whatever is next- college, work, your parents’ couch- nobody will ever ask you again or care if you were the valedictorian, salutatorian, or what your ranking was. Same goes for college- once you have that first job, your GPA and “honors” designations are meaningless. Sounds like parents wanting to be able to have something to brag about in the family Christmas letter to me.

Steve

June 1st, 2012
10:40 am

I would go one step farther and pose this question – If those in education are only concerned about making sure that test scores meet a certain goal, and graduation rate is the determining factor for how well a school achieves, then where does education come in? Should educators concentrate more on actually teaching students rather than have them regurgitate data for a test? Should students be able to think logically, critically, and form their own opinions about the material that each teacher presents? If education is more than arbitrary test scores and rote data, then why not eliminate grades all together? If would seem to me that grades do not actually show what students know. Grades show what students may be willing to do, or can do, but not what they learn. Its a gut feeling, a qualitative assessment rather than a quantitative number.

South GA Educator

June 1st, 2012
10:43 am

Wow! In the politically correct, must-not-offend world in which we live, even I am amazed by the rationale for not naming valedictorians that is being offered up today! A lifetime devoted to education has reinforced my long-held viewpoint that expectation is among the most important factors in educational achievement. Expectation, whether from parents, teachers, peers or mentors, influences student commitment and effort. When students sense expectation from multiple sources, one typically sees the greatest response. Unfortunately, many students do not enjoy the benefit of education in a world shaped by expectation.

Now, let’s turn to another factor that drives student scholarship – competition. Despite what many people apparently now believe, competition is often a positive motivating force. In the case of valedictorians, not only does the “winner” benefit from the competition; so do all those who strived for same prize. Numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, and so forth, studied harder, managed their time better, became more self-motivated and more self-reliant and raised the bar of academic achievement at their high school. In very tangible ways, they increased their competitiveness for college admission and earned much-deserved scholarships.

Please, let’s not throw the baby out with the wash water! For once could we please focus on and reward the top achievers? Recent efforts to raise high school graduation rates focused on the underachievers. While that is important, those who are in the upper end of the academic achievement distribution help set a higher bar for their peers and those who follow.

Winning and losing is a fact of life, like it or not. When we fail to acknowledge and recognize winners, everyone stands to lose. Being valedictorian is analgous to the scoreboard in basketball. I believe it was legendary college basketball coach Adolph Rupp who said “if the score is not important, why do we have a scoreboard”?

Jeff

June 1st, 2012
10:50 am

And this is the perfect example of why we’re falling behind. We no longer have the drive to win because we’ve trained a generation to not keep score.

That’s also why we have people walking around with egos the size of houses who actually can’t do anything. See: American Idol tryouts. But hey, we solved the self esteem problem, right?

catlady

June 1st, 2012
10:50 am

I’d like to see only certain courses used for computing the honors. This would vary from high school to high school, depending on that school’s offerings. If a school offered only one AP class, then everyone “up” for val or sal would have to take that.

A few years ago we had a girl as sal who had never taken anything except general classes, including vocational classes. There is nothing wrong with vocational classes–i support them–but she should have not been ranked ahead of the kid with 3 APs. There should be certain classes required for those two honors.

I graduated second in my class of 240. There were no AP classes, and honors classes got no “boost”. Why did I strive for it? Because I was a little competitive (my mother had been class valedictorian of a class of 30; my dad had graduated from Duke with his EE in 3 years), and because doing well was pretty easy for me. If I had taken biology instead of chemistry, I would have had the co-val spot. Although it bothered my mother, that didn’t bother me. One BFF was Valedictorian, and the other BF was 3rd place, so if I had made that grade my 3rd place BFF would have been second. Now that I regret. It would have been great having all 3 of us on the stage together.

To make the process a little fairer, there should be a rule about transfering in. We had a girl transfer in for our senior year who was named co-val, even though she had some substandard classes from a “country” school, and even though she was caught cheating on finals (she did not move into the district, but was allowed to transfer). THAT was wrong, but her parents threatened a lawsuit so the school gave in. Ah, I guess it is better to experience the real world at the age of 17. Not everything is fair.

Were Out!

June 1st, 2012
10:50 am

Here’s another interesting statistic (informal of course). I counted the number of “honors students” at our school that were female vs. male. Guess what the number was.. 85:20 (Female:male). What does that tell you about the curriculum?

Former_Val

June 1st, 2012
10:55 am

I graduated top of my class in the mid-70’s (about 200 students, central FLA area). In combination with a good SAT score, I qualified for a scholarship. Period. HS class rank did not matter in college (all the professors care about is how you do in their class), nor did it matter when got a professional job.
Being top of my HS class was a source of great pride for my folks, but – as for all accomplishments – what you did last month for your employer/colleagues/family matters more than what you did twenty years ago.
My father attended a SC private military academy as a Korean war vet, his friend (also a veteran) was denied top honors in his class (they changed the rules) because he was not in the “core”. Games with who is “top” have been going on forever.

Grumps

June 1st, 2012
10:56 am

ok, I’ll throw in 2 cents.

If the goal of schools is to educate, then there is no point in grades. Every student needs to keep working on the lesson until they understand it and then move on. It seems like this is the philosophy of certain private schools, but I’ll agree it’s a difficult strategy to implement. Still, if someone passes with a 72, are they being educated? Or did they just get lucky.

That said, I am back in college now. I’m in my 60’s and I still like getting As and I get them pretty consistently.

Grumps

June 1st, 2012
11:02 am

In the school my daughter attended, AP and honors courses counted for more on the GPA. If I remember correctly, APs got 7 points and honors got 5. So an 87 in an AP class become a 94 and an 87 in an honors course becomes a 92.

northatlantateacher

June 1st, 2012
11:19 am

@Old Physics Teacher: Indeed.

Todd

June 1st, 2012
11:31 am

People can you feel it? Love is everywhere.

—“Revival,” by the Allman Brothers Band

Dear Dixie,

I got a new kid in 5th period today. His name is Herman and I was surprised he wasn’t too bug-eyed looking at us looking back at him but he wasn’t saying much either. After a while he started answering a whole bunch of geography-related questions—correctly—and I let him know how impressed I was and how proud I was of him. Anyway, he said he already knew Ramona.

Ramona said they met in the hood.

I forgot about giving him his textbook, and when I gave out textbooks the first day of class I made a loud and big deal out of it. I called them up to The Lectern of Speaking by their full name and handed the book over as if they were receiving a college diploma and I shook their hands and I made everybody clap.

I did all that with Herman today. Come to find out he got book number 1 and I could tell that all the kids thought that was pretty neat for some new kid who walks into class during the second week of school to get book number 1.

http://www.adixiediary.com