Merrimack Valley High School to get rid of valedictorian, salutatorian designations
The speeches given by class valedictorian and salutatorian at next Saturday’s graduation will be among the last delivered by students bearing the designations at Merrimack Valley High School.
The school board approved a policy this week to replace valedictorian, salutatorian and top 10 designations with three levels of academic honor, in a move that follows several New Hampshire districts. The school currently recognizes 10 students at graduation for academic honors.
Instead, students will be recognized for cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude based on grade-point average. Bow, Bedford and Hollis-Brookline high schools have switched from a class rank structure, and Kearsarge Regional School District may consider changing a tradition that some say has placed the emphasis on rank instead of learning. The change will be included in next year’s student handbook and will go into effect for current sophomores.
“We feel that this is really for the school to set the bar and say, ‘Hey, this is what an honors achievement looks like,’ ” Merrimack Valley High School Principal Michael Jette said during a meeting yesterday. “This is designed so that instead of having the top 10 students recognized at graduation, we would recognize everybody who achieves a cumulative GPA.”
The distinctions are a tradition, and top students could feel getting rid of the valedictorian, salutatorian and top 10 designations takes something away from them. “I believe we can have both,” said Lorrie Carey, a Boscawen resident and Merrimack Valley School Board member. “I just feel that kids compete against each other, and when everybody is the winner and nobody is the top dog it takes away from the competitive edge that exists in life.”
Supporters say using the three levels of academic honor favored in higher education will allow recognition for all students with sustained academic success.
“There is all sorts of finger-pointing and excuse-making that goes on, relative to how it all turns out,” Jette said. “I think this eliminates that because it is competition against yourself.”
This year, 17 Merrimack Valley students would have graduated with honors, 12 with great honors and six with greatest honors. All of those students would be recognized at graduation with the new policy, Jette said.
In Merrimack Valley, the new policy changes how graduation speakers are chosen. Traditionally, the top two students by rank give speeches. Under the new format, students who graduated magna cum laude or summa cum laude would give speeches to a graduation committee that would select two speakers.
At Kearsarge Regional High School, discussions about ditching the class rank system have been led by Principal Jim Davies. He’s collected data for five years at the school as discussions continue. In the last five years, the range of students who would have graduated summa cum laude was between eight and 13, he said. In one graduating class, the 10th-ranked student’s GPA was less than a tenth of a percentage point lower than the valedictorian’s.
“The focus should be on learning and not class rank. When class rank becomes more important than learning, I think there is a problem,” Davies said.
In class rank systems, students who get a B freshman year are eliminated from valedictorian contention, and Davies said some students have avoided some classes because they are worried about the effect on their class rank.
“Our students are competitive by nature. I really don’t believe class rank makes them more competitive. They have that grit. It’s inherent in them. I really don’t think the class rank gives them more grit,” he said. “I’d much rather set a high bar and see students have the opportunity to achieve that.”
In most districts, GPA is the only factor in determining class rank.
“It’s usually a, ‘Yeah, but. They didn’t take an AP course. They didn’t do this,’ ” Jette said. “We had a (potential) valedictorian who couldn’t tie his shoelaces and his only non-A was in PE. They said he could have been valedictorian if he did better in PE.”
(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)