high school graduation

Many high schools across America are abandoning the long-held graduation tradition of awarding the top academic student with the distinction of valedictorian.

While some schools are doing away with the designation altogether, others are crowning multiple valedictorians, based on achieving a certain benchmark.

Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, crowned 117 valedictorians in 2015, more than a quarter of the graduating class. Moreover, all 117 graduates shared the No. 1 rank, based on having achieved a grade-point average of 4.0 or better.

As Carolyn Thompson of the Associated Press wrote last week, half of the nation's high schools no longer report class rankings to colleges and universities.

Thompson paraphrases Bob Farace, spokesman for the National Association of Secondary School Principles, saying high school administrators are concerned with college prospects for students separated by large differences in class rankings, but small differences in grade-point averages.

Thompson writes that "concerns about intense, potentially unhealthy competition and students letting worries about rank drive their course selections,” has led to a decade-long decline among high schools crowning single valedictorians.

Raleigh, North Carolina's News & Observer reported last May that the state's Wake County School Board voted to stop naming valedictorians and salutatorians by 2019. Tom Benton, a school board chairman, told the News & Observer:

“We have heard from many, many schools that the competition has become very unhealthy. 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.”

In May, school board members of Greater Clark County Schools in Indiana voted to drop the valedictorian designation, choosing instead to designate cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude — based on achievement of GPA benchmarks.

The board had previously proposed honoring the top ten percent of each graduating class, fearing the quest to become valediction has become too competitive. Parents and students opposed to the change derided it as presenting students with little more than a “participation trophy.”

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