What Makes a Valedictorian?

This past 12 months have been some of the hardest I’ve faced in my role as a School Board member. With all of the COVID restrictions and changes we have had to deal with, every decision was tumultuous with no real right answer for anything. Every decision either upset the school Administration, the Teachers and their union, or parents. So it was nice when an item came up that I hope is less contentious that needs to be worked on.

One of the things that has bothered me for many years is how our school district determines who are its Valedictorians for the graduating class. I think most people rightly assume that these students are the top students from their graduating class. Unfortunately, due to quirks in how they are selected, the best students often get sidestepped.

So how are they selected? Currently, a Valedictorian is defined as someone who has gotten all A’s in his classes. Some schools base that on all classes, while others may limit it to only academic classes.

So what’s wrong with that method? Seems simple and obvious, right?

The problem is that it doesn’t take into account which classes the student took. In fact, it doesn’t even actually reflect the GPA of the students. For advanced students, there are Advanced Placement, or AP, classes that they can take that correctly give them more credits to reflect the advanced nature of the classes. Unfortunately, even though the GPA reflects this advanced class, the letter grade does not! So some students who get a “B” in these classes are knocked out of consideration for Valedictorian even though they got 4 credits (same as an A grade).

In GPA terms, a grade of A is equivalent to a 4.0 GPA. However, with an AP class, a grade of A is actually 5.0 GPA. A grade of B in an AP class is a 4.0. This means that there are students who will have a cumulative GPA of upwards of 4.2 or 4.4 or 4.5 even but may have gotten a B along the way.

Compare this to a student who takes the bare minimum of classes and never takes an advanced class but does get all A grades. His or her GPA would be 4.0. So would this 4.0 student be considered a better student than someone who has a 4.5 GPA overall? By any measure, the 4.5 GPA student should be ranked higher.

The schools even track each students rank and that is accurately determined by their GPA.

So you end up with cases where the Valedictorian may actually be rank 15 or 20 in his class, while those at the top ranks, at rank #1 or #2 go unrecognized entirely. That is not how to motivate our students. You don’t recognize success based on archaic definitions that were simply not updated when available classes were updated, when GPA scales were updated, etc.

The problem is that definition of a Valedictorian: “A student who gets all A’s”. It’s time for that definition to change to be more accurate, and actually simpler.

The Valedictorian should be the student with the highest GPA and class rank.

If we wish to honor the top 5 or top 10 students in a school, I’d favor that. The only requirement is to use the same definition as we use for school rank which is on every students report card. They are aware of it, they know where they stand each semester.

I hope everyone will support me in this change.

At the intersection of Technology, Politics, and Psychology