Naming valedictorians at high school graduations is unhealthy, according to one North Carolina school board that has done away with the tradition.
According to a new policy awaiting final approval on June 7, principals in Wake County, N.C., can no longer name valedictorians or salutatorians: the two seniors with the highest and second-highest grade point averages, respectively.
Instead, starting in 2019, the district will use Latin honors designations for all students who attain a certain weighted grade point average, or GPA. The highest, “summa cum laude,” is reserved for graduates with at least a 4.25 weighted GPA. Students who finish high school with a weighted GPA of 3.75 to 3.99 would be designated cum laude, and a GPA of 4.0 to 4.249 would be magna cum laude.
The district determines GPA using a weighted scale to reward course difficulty. Earning an A in an honors or Advanced Placement (AP) class is worth five points, for example, instead of four points for a normal class. Theoretically, a student could have a 5.0 GPA, if not for certain mandatory classes that cannot be weighted.
School board members voted unanimously in favor of the policy on Tuesday, in hopes that the change would encourage students to take more classes of genuine interest to them. Many said students were taking certain classes only for the GPA boost.
If the policy is approved, North Carolina state law will still mandate that the high school record students’ class rank on their transcripts.
No one voiced opposition to the new policy during the meeting, but some have criticized the Wake School Board for being “politically correct.”
“We have heard from many, many schools that the competition has become very unhealthy,” Tom Benton, school board chairman, told the News & Observer. “Students were not collaborating with each other the way that we would like them to. Their choice of courses was being guided by their GPA and not their future education plans.”
The new policy would recognize more students for their accomplishments, while abating some competition. Benton said this new system is better, especially in large schools with up to 600 graduating seniors, whose failure to earn a valedictorian or salutatorian title could come down to a thousandths of a decimal point.
“We think it’s much healthier to set high expectations and high requirements for magna cum laude,” he said. “The students now have a target that they can shoot for and if they achieve that they’re recognized for that.”
Class rankings are just one method of measuring academic performance, the new policy states: “The Wake County Board of Education also recognizes other means of evaluating student achievement, including grade point average, courses completed, level of rigor of curriculum, results of tests and assessments, and recommendation letters.”
Still, there’s some debate as to whether children today receive too many awards. Is the learning culture of “everybody wins” really that effective?
“There are competitions that you can measure very correctly and they do spur people on to bigger and better things,” said Benton. “There are competitions that are much harder to have objective measurements and grading falls into that. You’ve got the subjectivity of grades being determinate.”
P.S.: What do you think? Is it a good idea?