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Valedictorians must reflect true academic effort

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This week, the McCall-Donnelly (Idaho) school district opened its board meeting to discussion of eliminating valedictorian and salutatorian honors from future senior classes. Spurred by current-year complaints of unfair politics, and bolstered by the group-think that is influencing many high schools across the nation to abolish the titles, M-D school officials may halt the competition that inspires many students to take more academic courses in their own high school.

Unfortunately, the thinking that permeates such a decision (no competition, ever), influences many high school seniors (who think, “greatest return for the least amount of work”) to pad their course loads: with AP classes in which they never take the exam, with “pass/fail” courses, in which they can slide by while keeping their GPA high, and with “dual-credit” courses that give the appearance of college credit (and, for a price, actual credit at a limited number of schools) for courses like pre-calculus, which, at any self-respecting college, is a remedial class.

The problem is not competition for the highest honor; the problem is that high schools, in their pursuit of “fairness” for all students (even those who avoid challenging academics), ignore such factors as students who:

  • actually pass an AP exam, or better yet, get a “4” or a “5”
  • achieve high standardized test scores (on the ACT, SAT, SAT II, AP, and PSAT)
  • take a course from a more challenging school, which offers a higher workload, and which requires student accountability for completing assignments to college level

As a result of ignoring these true indicators of actual academic achievement, high schools create a “sham” award, in which students who have not taken the most challenging courses can outscore those who have truly progressed, and truly achieved great academic success.

Is such competition harmful? Absolutely not. Students who self-select difficult course loads understand intrinsic rewards. A title merely adds validation to the importance of such effort.

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