COMPETITION WITH NO WINNER
Academics in the West Valley no longer recognize "Best in Class." We look at the unachievable mission to create equal outcomes for every student in the West Valley.
A progressive trend emerging in high schools across the country has hit the West Valley.
How? Students competing academically are no longer able to claim “Best in Class.”
The status of valedictorian and salutatorian are, quite literally, history.
The tradition of valedictorians dates back to 1772 at The College of William & Mary.
“The valedictorian is commonly determined by a numerical formula, generally an academic institution's grade point average (GPA) system, but other methods of selection may be used or factored in such as community service or extra-curricular activity.”
I first caught wind of the removal of valedictorian honors when the Buckeye Union High School District’s governing board voted on this following policy a year ago.
The Peoria Unified and Agua Fria High School Districts are on board with inclusion graduation policies, too. Furthermore, academic ranking takes place at the conclusion of the 7th semester… not at the end of the full 4 years of high school.
Dysart Unified School District high schools offer a variety of signature programs. Each high school offers special diplomas and seals. But no where in its course selection guide could we find “valedictorian” honors.
How is it all of these schools have a similar policy?
Simple. They’re all members of the progressive Arizona School Boards Association. ASBA’s commitment to equity is deep and reflected in the association’s beliefs, goals, services and actions. ASBA Equity Webpage
And… where does ASBA derive its policies?
From the same organization which branded concerned parents as ‘Domestic Terrorists’… the National School Boards Association.
The National School Boards Association launched “Equity Matters” in 2018 - “committed to helping ensure each and every student has, not just equal, but equitable opportunities and access to a high quality education.” Shortly after, NSBA advised the Biden/Harris administration, calling for, “concentration on access, equity, and innovation to promote student mastery of 21st century skills and improved national learning.”
DIMINISHING THE IMPORTANCE OF CLASS RANK AROUND THE U.S.
Colorado: “Beginning with the Class of 2026, the Cherry Creek School District will ditch the recognition.”
North Carolina: “…the title has caused students to set overwhelming expectations for themselves before they even start high school.“
This story is really interesting out of Mississippi. As an effort to be “inclusive”, Jackson Public Schools award all students who achieve a cumulative 4.0 GPA the title of “valedictorian.” Earlier this year, new criteria was designed to “ultimately recognize one valedictorian for the class” by giving extra points to students who took rigorous AP and dual enrollment courses. The exclusive distinction didn’t sit well where everyone expects a trophy.
CONS: THE ARGUMENT AGAINST VALEDICTORIAN RECOGNITION
In 2018, Dr. David Gleason, a clinical psychologist, shared his research in schools in the U.S. and around the world at the English Speaking Scholastic Association Of The River Plate Conference, [ESSARP]. He’d published a book a year earlier titled, “At What Cost? Defending Child Development in Fiercely Competitive Schools.”
Anxiety, disillusionment and depression emerge, sometimes with devastating outcomes, as conflicts between ever-increasing school expectations and students’ developmental capacities persist. Tellingly, many high achieving schools have been termed “epicenters of overachievement” where students “hear the overriding message that only the best will do in grades, test scores, sports, art, college…in everything.” Consequently, too many students in these schools feel stressed and pressured, conditions that lead not only to anxiety and depression, but also, to a host of dangerous manifestations of those conditions: substance abuse, eating disorders, sleep deprivation, cutting and other forms of self-injury, and too often, suicide. Keynote Speaker Description
Dr. Gleason explains children can be the same age, but grow and develop at different paces. (Start at the 47:14 minute mark.)
“Just because we expect kids to do these things, doesn’t mean they are going to be able to do them until they are - in fact - ready to do them,” explains Dr. Gleason. “If we don’t have the empathy to recognize they can’t do that, then we’re doing something wrong.”
TODAY, EDUCATORS ARE ENCOURAGED TO STOP SORTING AND COMPARING STUDENTS
As far back as 2010, educators have pushed the idea that class rank has declined in importance.
Colleges and universities have responded by developing their own systems of ranking students and calculating projected class ranks. In addition, a number of universities recalculate student GPA by either adding or removing weighting to college-level courses or calculating GPA based solely on core academic courses. National Association of Secondary School Principals
Don’t be fooled. We know high school success doesn’t determine one’s destiny. But coddling students can hinder their growth and development. Hard work DOES pay off when trying to get into - and afford - the collegiate level.
PROS: THE ARGUMENT FOR VALEDICTORIAN RECOGNITION
Somebody’s gotta win and somebody’s gotta lose. That’s life.
Life is not fair, nor equal. In my opinion, setting up kids for this unachievable way of life is about the worst idea educators have ever implemented. No boss is going to award you for coming to work on time. No boss is going to pat you on the back for coming in last in productivity.
A NATIONAL DEBATE
In 2019, the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board compared athletic aspirations to those of competitive students….
We have no problem recognizing the top athletes — those who score the most touchdowns or break the record for the 50-yard dash. So why not the top academic achievers too? Baltimore Sun
The editorial board argues, “Watering down the honor of valedictorian is just another example of overprotecting our kids and shielding them from unpleasantness in life.”
I couldn’t agree more. A student staff writer at Forest Hills High School in Michigan outlines the debate this way…
“Throughout the year, athletes are constantly praised for their accomplishments: winning the State Championship, being picked for the All State team, winning that game against their rivals, etc… Athletes would be extremely discouraged if we took away the State tournament, the All State team honors, or other honors that can be given to athletes. By taking away the Valedictorian, we are essentially doing the same to all those studious individuals striving to graduate at the top of their class.” -The honor of being valedictorian should not be eliminated. | TheCentralTrend | Emily Obermeyer
On the flip side, some schools opt to keep the title of valedictorian, but award it to EVERY student earning a 4.0 GPA despite class rigor. Is that ethical?
One high school in Oregon had 21 valedictorians, while another had 10. College admissions counselors worry that this is muddying the waters. Jim Rawlins, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling said, “Yes, it has definitely watered things down a little bit. Definitely, the more ultra-selective universities have to be more critical and skeptical of class ranks than before.” -Suzanne Shaffer | TeenLife
A TROPHY FOR ALL - A DIPLOMA
Parents who pay attention had their say when a Florida superintendent attempted to remove honors for highest achieving students. The blowback got him to change course. The effort only came to light when a local news outlet discovered it.
“We do give everybody a trophy. It’s called a diploma and they earned it…” points out a board member of the Escambia County School District in Florida. In June 2021, the superintendent dropped the idea to eliminate valedictorian and salutatorian honors when a news outlet exposed the decision… “hundreds of people took our comments section, our social media sites and other social media pages to blast the proposal. Before the board meeting, it was very hard to find a comment in support of dropping the valedictorian and salutatorian honors,” notes NorthEscambia.com.
HARD WORK TURNS INTO MONEY - MONEY PAYS FOR COLLEGE
The fact is, GPA does matter in college admissions. Scholarships are given to those who earn elite status. Ask the parents in Virginia who discovered too late their high-achieving children were eligible for scholarship funds…
“Keeping these certificates from students is theft by the state,” says Yashar.
FCPS withholds awards, pays $455,000 for equity contractor | Fairfax County Times
TOP SCHOLARSHIPS - GRADES MATTER
The Rhodes Scholarship was instituted in 1902 to sponsor brilliant academic students in their various fields.
The Fullbright scholarship is another highly competitive scholarship and encourages the integration of cultures across the world.
The National Merit Scholarship Program rewards select students on the basis of academic performance, extracurricular activities and accomplishments.
Established by Congress in 1986, the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is a competitive, merit-based award providing up to $7,500 for sophomores and juniors majoring in mathematics, engineering, and the natural sciences.
Since 1999, the Davidson Institute has granted over $6.7 million to profoundly gifted young people under age 18 who primarily score in the 99th percentile on achievement tests.
Annually, the Elks National Foundation hosts its Most Valuable Student Competition. The merit-based program considers high-achieving graduating high school seniors.
ARIZONA COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIP OPPORTUNITIES
At most, if not all, colleges in Arizona offer academic scholarships to students who’ve earned high GPA’s in high school. If students really push themselves by taking dual enrollment and AP courses, the reward is greater.
JEN’S TWO CENTS
What I’ve found to be the problem in the West Valley is this. Few journalists pay attention to what’s happening in the local schools. Few parents know what’s happening, either.
“Historically rooted in the valedictorian's traditional role as the final speaker at the graduation ceremony commencement before the students receive their diplomas. The valedictory address, also known as the valediction, is generally considered a final farewell to classmates, before they disperse to pursue their individual paths after graduating.”
Considering this prestigious tradition, you can see how it came as a surprise to families in the Buckeye Union High School District who discovered commencement speeches would be pre-recorded and not live. The BUHSD superintendent told me it was a decision made by each campus and not a district rule. Students rallied.
If you really want to get down to the nitty gritty of it all, students can be REWARDED for taking fewer classes their senior year! Yes! The math shows, students who take a home period - who actually stayed at home for one class period every day - could score higher GPA’s. But that’s not explained in the BUHSD handbook. All it states is…
“A home period during the senior year may also impact ranking.”
So the schools - possibly unintentionally - can disincentivize taking a full class load all the way through graduation for those working toward top honors.
Is it fair to let kids think life is “equal for all” despite effort?
You only know the lengths toward incorporating equity and inclusion in the classroom if you’re paying attention.
Our next Substack will focus on an expensive equity program in the Buckeye Union High School District. Are taxpayers in the know?
Get to school district governing board meetings. Get involved.
We’re looking at a future society of citizens who all want a trophy for doing nothing exceptional.