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"Battle to Be Valedictorian Gives Some Administrators Pause" (NY Times)


Replies to: "Battle to Be Valedictorian Gives Some Administrators Pause" (NY Times)

  • vig180vig180 Registered User Posts: 460 Member
    I remember my high school had one of the most cutthroat competitions for Valedictorian that I'd ever seen. First, one guy got his mom (or maybe vice-versa) to drive him to advanced classes at the high school from middle school in order to get a leg up on everyone else. Another girl, when informed she got a B for a semester thanks to a semester exam, started crying and begged the teacher to raise it to an A, which he did.

    But the actual co-valedictorians ended up pulling out all the stops and kept on raising the stakes; when one heard about that the other was taking summer classes, she had to also. When one heard that the other was taking 5 APs, she dropped one of her classes to take it too. I know an earlier class where someone who took orchestra instead of AP Music Theory ended up as salutatorian and was very disappointed.

    I definitely preferred the added points for AP and honors classes, but it really annoyed me how our school didn't offer classes like AP Art History so I ended up having to take a standard "humanities" class that hurt my GPA for my "art/music" credit. Plus people who took languages who didn't offer AP classes at our school (like Japanese) were hurt more than those who took Latin, which offered two AP classes. It didn't matter anyways; everyone got into good colleges, but back in high school I wouldn't have been surprised if brawls had broken out.

    What I really don't like is when colleges offer certain scholarships to "Valedictorians only" or when local papers publish all the pictures of valedictorians, not recognizing that a lot of people at some schools could be valedictorians at many others. If people de-emphasized the importance of being a val or sal, then there would be much less of this crazy competition for a high GPA and maybe- just maybe- more focus on learning.
  • sumzupsumzup Registered User Posts: 799 Member
    This kind of competition flabbergasts me. My school is relatively small, with a graduating class of around 200. Maybe that's why no one cares...
  • momreadsmomreads Registered User Posts: 3,248 Senior Member
    I loved it when all the AP kids were so ticked at a kid who was not taking AP and ranked No. 2. This young man had no desire to take an AP class. Instead, he had to work nearly full-time to help out his family. The AP kids were so annoyed that this young man was in the battle for the valedictorian spot, because he "never challenged himself." They took the harder classes, but chose to goof off in them, too. They wanted the weight but didn't think they would have to work for it. The young man finished No. 4 in the class. Still, he got his first two years of college paid by a scholarship. BTW, he's a great kid, too.
  • nightskynightsky Registered User Posts: 69 Junior Member
    "Given all the drama over the honor, how do valedictorians fare in the long term? Karen D. Arnold, an associate professor of higher education at Boston College, spent more than 15 years studying valedictorians who graduated in 1981 from high schools across Illinois. Dr. Arnold found that high school valedictorians consistently did well in college and were generally well-rounded, successful people. They were not a group, however, who were particularly creative or who would achieve great distinction in life."

    I found this quote to be the most fascinating in the article. Folks on this board are constantly asking why top GPA / SAT kids are turned down by some schools. Perhaps admissions has figured out what the research says. Top schools take chances on kids without the top, top GPA because some of these "chance" kids end up being the most interesting in the long term.
  • Kisstherain325Kisstherain325 Registered User Posts: 255 Junior Member
    I was valedictorian of my graduating class, and I can honestly say that I never even thought of/heard of gaming the system until I joined CC. Being valedictorian was a matter of personal happiness with my academics. I figured if I was going to do my school work I might as well do it the best I could, and I wasn't satisfied with myself if I knew I didn't reach my own potential. (Plus, I secretly enjoyed school/homework, so doing it was never a drag.) It would have been silly to sacrifice things such as music or sports just to facilitate a number.

    My school Co-Ranks, and declares these ranks in the beginning of October. The top five ranked individuals are then recalculated a the end of thirty weeks of school. During this gap, I don't know of anyone in the top five who tried to game the system, or ruthlessly compete. People just went on with their usual school routine. I'd say if anything everyone was overwhelmingly supportive of each other. If my rank had suddenly dropped or someone else had been co-ranked with me, I would have been disappointed in myself, but happy for the other person.

    I guess its sort of culture shock to me how competitive academics have become.
  • ConsolationConsolation Registered User Posts: 23,020 Senior Member
    I should clarify that our school, which does not weight grades, also does not officially rank, with the exception of declaring the val/sal and the "top 10." (Grades are numeric on a scale to 100, which probably makes ties less likely.) The GCs have been known to reveal rank in their written recs at times, though--sometimes to the detriment of the applicant. It is also possible to get a rough estimate of where a kid falls by looking at the published profile. The problem is that the profile is always that of last year's class, and classes do differ.

    BTW, the supposition that top schools will take a chance on a kid without a top GPA is not borne out by the experience of kids I know in recent years. HYPSM have consistently gone for the top GPAs. They have passed over some kids with more demonstrated intellectual passion, somewhat more challenging course loads, and somewhat higher scores. They consistently take the conventionally-driven kids at our HS over those with slightly lower grades (and I mean still unweighted A averages) who may be more intellectually impassioned or "different." Independent-mindedness does not seem to be highly valued. Or maybe it's that our HS doesn't value it, and so doesn't push for those kids as much...it's hard to say.
  • mathmommathmom Registered User Posts: 32,045 Senior Member
    vig180, I was a Mom who drove my kid (and two others) to the high school to take classes when they were in middle school. It had nothing to do with wanting to be the valedictorian (and none of them were) and everything to do with wanting to be in the appropriate math placement. They were bored to death by middle school math.

    Consolation, I agree, HYPM (but not Stanford) have only accepted kids in the top 1 to 2% in our school. That amounts to about the top 15. Alot of our valedictorians seem to end up at Harvard or Yale.
  • NewHope33NewHope33 Registered User Posts: 6,208 Senior Member
    I hadn't though about it, but yeah our personal experience is that only Vals from D's HSs got into HYPM. I wouldn't call the Vals dull exactly, but kids ranked two thru six were were much more interesting and preferred UPenn or top LACs. Good observation Consolation.
  • NewHope33NewHope33 Registered User Posts: 6,208 Senior Member
    As for class ranking, where would you place a kid who has the highest GPA, unweighted and weighted, who is ineligible to be Val? (This happened to my niece, who took Algebra in 8th grade and changed school districts for HS.)
  • kryptonsa36kryptonsa36 Registered User Posts: 1,735 Senior Member
    My school would have 10+ valedictorians if we did such a ridiculous thing. Thank goodness we don't. It's bad enough my high school overly emphasizes things like AP and grades. Had it ranked students, too, it would be that much more deserving of its relatively low number of students going to HYPSM (for a school with a very high US News/Newsweek ranking).
  • gladmomgladmom Registered User Posts: 810 Member
    My S's HS makes its val decisions behind closed doors. It is a 750-student school that weights GPAs. But having the highest gpa won't get you val status. My S is "3rd" in his class, even though his gpa was highest. We know this because the principal announced the two co-vals' GPAs at the awards assembly.

    Since there were two vals, there was no sal. They were chosen because they have lots of great school-related ECs, and that is as important to our HS as the GPAs. My S was not disappointed, since he had never cared about being a val. He is happy that he got into his top choice, top 3 school.

    I don't like the secrecy about the way they make the choices, however. It ends up being as much about which of the top students are most popular with the principal as it does with academic achievement.
  • MiamiDAPMiamiDAP Registered User Posts: 16,184 Senior Member
    My D. HS does not use "Valedictorian"/Ranking and nobody knows who is the top student before graduation day. At graduation, the top overall GPA gets award and top Senior GPA gets another award, they could be the same person. Still nobody gets "valedictorian" attached to their name even if they have perfect GPA. Colleges still know who is the top based on school profile and student GPA, however, they cannot determine ranking further than top student. Relatively high % are going to Ivy's and other top schools considering graduation class is only 30-40 kids.
  • mathmommathmom Registered User Posts: 32,045 Senior Member
    As for class ranking, where would you place a kid who has the highest GPA, unweighted and weighted, who is ineligible to be Val? (This happened to my niece, who took Algebra in 8th grade and changed school districts for HS.)
    If I were your niece's GC I would write in my recommendation that she had the grades to be valedictorian and that the only reason she wasn't was because of whatever the technicality was that made her ineligible. I'd probably also create some special award at whatever end of the year award's ceremony her school has that recognizes her achievement.
  • NorthEastMom2NorthEastMom2 Registered User Posts: 387 Member
    Our school does not rank, and will start weighted GPAs next year. The top 5 % students are recognized at graduation - about 30ish students. This year, some of them definitely were not AP/Honors students.
  • bluebayoubluebayou Registered User Posts: 26,670 Senior Member
    concur with mathmom:

    ask GC to write that niece had highest gpa in her class, but due to transfer in she is ineligible for Val/Sal.

    btw: this is also how a GC can handle top kids for schools that don't rank. For example, a GC could write something to the effect: our official district policy is that we do not rank kids, but if we did, Sally would be first in her class based on gpa....
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