Sunday, May 20, 2007

Academic Achievement Deserves More Recognition, not Less!

This takes the award for the best article of the day!

Brittany Dixon, a junior at Lake Orion High School and editor of the Student Voices section in the Eccentric Newspapers, wrote this insightful piece regarding the way the honor of Valedictorian and Salutatorian have been watered-down.

Eccentric: Valedictorians vanish as schools honor several top scholars (05/20/07)

This, from a high school junior, shows the “culture of education” in Michigan:

"Schools provide top students with distinctive tassels to adorn their caps at graduation, but when it comes to the record-setting athlete, it's a completely different ball game. Extravagant banquets, impressive plaques and countless newspaper clippings acknowledge sports players' accomplishments, yet the title of valedictorian is forgotten in the midst of honoring every student who "did their best."

I have supported the idea of eliminating “Vals and Sals” at Rochester, but only because the Rochester School district refuses to weight the grades of academically challenging classes. This creates
two problems. First, an “A” in guitar class counts the same as an “A” in AP Calculus or AP Physics, and that hardly seems fair. Secondly, I’m told that some students in the running for “val or sal” shy away from the more academically challenging courses in their senior year because it might put that designation at risk.

I’ve also believed having 10 Valedictorians and 20 Salutatorians in a single graduating class signals a weak curriculum. How much challenge can there be if such a large number of students can achieve “perfect” or “near-perfect” scores?

This article today has caused me to rethink my position.

I have included below the full article:


Valedictorians vanish as schools honor several top scholars
BY BRITTANY DIXON


The title of valedictorian, derived from the Latin equivalent meaning "to say farewell," is ironically doing just that. Recently, many high schools have done away with the tradition of choosing a single valedictorian in favor of recognizing a group of students graduating at the top of their class instead. This decision has resulted in opposing views from administration and students at several local high schools.

Kati Schmidt, a 2006 graduate of Oxford High School, would have been valedictorian of her class if it weren't for the "everyone's a winner" philosophy that has become increasingly more common. Rather than reserving the well-known honor for the highest-achieving individual, Oxford recognizes the top 10 students based on cumulative grade-point averages. Lake Orion High School does the same.

This new method leads many to ask, "What makes 10 better than one?" According to Todd Dunckley, principal of Lake Orion High School, "not choosing one valedictorian gives recognition to more students who deserve it."

Schmidt, however, disagrees: "If they were going to make a distinction between 10 of us and the rest of the class, then they might as well have said who was first, second and so on."

Competition between classmates for the coveted top spot may have also been a factor that ultimately led to the elimination of valedictorians. Schmidt remembers the rivalry among students leading up to commencement: "It wasn't openly cut-throat, but I think people were pretty concerned with [being the best], whether they admitted it or not."

Dunckley has noticed the same behavior as well and feels the "top 10" policy ensures that "nobody gets harmed." But others argue that not being one of several people honored makes ordinary students feel worse.

Aside from the personal emotions involved, the absence of valedictorians can also play a part in the college admissions process.

Katy Rice, a senior at Lake Orion High School and ranked first in her class, has experienced these negative affects firsthand. Rice, who plans to attend Alma College in the fall, will not be receiving the funding she has earned. "The school I am going to has a special, full-ride scholarship specifically for valedictorians. Although I am qualified, I'm not eligible because [Lake Orion] won't officially give me that title."

Schools provide top students with distinctive tassels to adorn their caps at graduation, but when it comes to the record-setting athlete, it's a completely different ball game. Extravagant banquets, impressive plaques and countless newspaper clippings acknowledge sports players' accomplishments, yet the title of valedictorian is forgotten in the midst of honoring every student who "did their best."

Perhaps the status of valedictorian was more imperative years ago, when a much smaller percentage of high school grads went on to pursue a higher education. Still, many find it sad to end a longtime tradition by withholding a highly sought-after title from deserving students. Said Schmidt: "I worked really hard in high school, and having the title of valedictorian would have been pretty cool."

Brittany Dixon is a junior at Lake Orion High School and editor of the Student Voices section in the Eccentric Newspapers.

6 comments:

Clay Hufnagel said...

Democracy calls for equality -- trying to bring everyone to the same level, playing down differences.

Capitalism calls for competition, free enterprise -- rewards based on degrees of success.

What made our country great -- democracy or free enterprise? What shoud our schools emulate if they are to graduate productive citizens in a global economy?

Dan Hagan said...

Mr. Hufnagel,

Respectfully, I must disagree! Democracy does not "call for" equality, nor does it have anything to do with leveling the playing field or "playing down differences"!

Democracy only affords its citizens a greater likelihood of equal opportunity! Nothing is promised. The outcomes of individual endeavors will vary based upon effort, talent, and providence. There are no guarantees of success or failure. The freedom that a democracy affords is inclusive in the opportunity for both success and for failure. Capitalism is a tool of the free; to freely compete for the attention and "capital" of the consumer. To contrast democracy and capitalism is not appropriate as they are highly complimentary to one another. They also have nothing to do with the High School student's experience of success or failure!

I am a Lake Orion High School parent. And I heartily disagree with our High School Principal, Todd Dunckley! In trying to make more kids feel better he has made the non-top 10 feel even worse! Current policy has diminished the true winner's hard earned reward and honor! It's very analogous to a mountain climbing contest! There can only be one climber that will win the honor of being the best because "by definition" there is only room at the top for one! However, LOHS has built a platform at the top, so that more than one can stand at the top, and all bask in the watered down glory of benign accomplishment, while the rest of the class feels even more miserable because they didn't attain the much easier goal of being in the "top 10". What good would an Olympic Gold medal be if 10 were issued at the end of the race so that feelings wouldn't be hurt! What does that do to the drive for excellence!

This is just another form of political correctness run amok! Even if feelings were truly spared, how are our children supposed to learn to deal with lifes disappointments? And in protecting our kids from disappointment, we have also robbed them of the smallest chance at excellence and a true reason to be proud of their efforts!

Brittany Dixon said...

I just graduated Summa Cum Laude from LOHS last week. I had a 3.99 GPA and was ranked 6th of 581 seniors.

At the time of writing this article, I had a perfect 4.0 and was first in my class.

Ultimately, I fell short of my goal of holding valedictorian status by getting two A minuses in AP Calculus.

Although it would have been nice to be recognized for my accomplishments with more than a gold cord, it all paid off in the end.

The sense of personal satisfaction I felt as I walked that stage in cap and gown was worth far more than a title. And when I graduate from Alma Honors College four years from now, debt-free thanks to a full academic scholarship, I will look back on all my hard work with nothing but pride and a smile.

bky said...

Brittany...I would very much like to contact you for more information concerning your comment. Our school system is going through this debate right now. I think your comments are right on target.

Brittany Dixon said...

bky-I apologize that I just now saw your comment but I'd be more than happy to discuss this issue with you and I am interested to hear what your school system decides. Feel free to email me anytime at 12bldixo@alma.edu.

Anonymous said...

This ALL boils down to schools weighting grades. I strongly feel that an A in Honors Calculus is worth more than an A in Pre-Algebra. Lake Orion has to wake up and reward the kids who are going the "extra mile". My son is current Sophomore, and taking all honors classes. Why should he have the same grade point as a kid taking the bare minimum? I am tired of hearing about kids "hurt" feelings. What about the kid who has busted his behind, only to be rewarded with a "top ten"...talk about hurt feelings!!! WAKE UP LO!