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.
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