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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

Legacy Comments10

Here we go with the political correctness. You can't keep score it might offend someone or hurt someone's feelings. Everyone gets a trophy, I can see the graduates lining up and giving each other high fives to show what good sports they are. GPA counts, they are there to learn and if you do the best, it matters.

This year there were close to 230 students in the senior class that graduated, 17 held grades of honors and above. These numbers do not in any way make everyone equal! But what this system does do is allow the student to be more competitive. Think of it this way, 3 students all have 4.0 averages in a class of 50. Is it wrong to allow all three to be honored with greatest honors instead of 1? I don't believe it is wrong. You really need to look at the big picture and not a pigeon hole with blinders on.

“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. Is it me, or is that one idiotic statement. Hey, the MORE you LEARN, the higher your rank you moron!!!

Seriously? The only people to get a trophy in this plan are those who earn high honors. Not the top ten (who may or may not have earned an honorable level of achievement), but anyone and everyone who works hard and earns the distinction. Think of the American Automobile Industry... You could have one of the top 10 cars produced in 1985 and it would not measure up to some of the imports. Only when we standardized the expectation did we increase value of the product. There is nothing to fear here. School is not competitive, it is not the olympics.

By doing away with the valedictorian and salutatorian in the senior class, it is a liberal move to make everyone equal. The teachers should be putting more into teaching the basics, and I believe MVS district has a problem in teaching the students. The NECAP testing is going lower each year in some of the schools in the school district and the AP history test results were low. I believe the people with students in the MVS district need to wake up and start demanding an education for their students. Many students are not receiving the education they deserve.

This educator thinks this is a terrible idea.

Everybody gets a trophy! I suggest reading David McCullough's speech to Wellsley HS titled "You Are Not Special".

Ridiculous. And let's give gold medals at the Olympics to the top 10 finishers because they're all really special.

time to get rid of teacher of the year then....

The elimination of class valedictorian and salutatorian is nothing more than political correctness run amok. Why is it that school administrators are looking to create an egalitarian system for our children? Part of the problem in our education system is that there is no consequences for those who either can't (or don't want to) measure up. "Ds are NOT just like Bs without belts."

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