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CON: Valedictorian title is unfair assessment

By KBell
May 20, 2012 at 12:20 a.m.
Updated May 21, 2012 at 12:21 a.m.


HOW SCHOOLS CALCULATE GPA

Cindy Kirby, director of professional development at the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals, said in the past couple years, education circles have discussed developing a statewide standard for determining grade point average.

"During this study, a resounding response from local district representatives was that they wanted to maintain local control for determining GPA," Kirby said in an email.

The state left it at that, allowing districts to continue using and reviewing their own systems for determining honor graduates.

In the Victoria school district, valedictorians are calculated based on the GPAs of students stretching from the beginning of ninth grade through the first semester of their senior year.

Grades are weighted, meaning a percentage grade in an Advanced Placement class is multiplied by 1.1, while pre-AP classes are multiplied by 1.05.

Jonathan Turner thinks the system that labeled him the best student at Bloomington High School is broken.

It's not that he didn't work hard to become last year's valedictorian, he said. It's just that so many of his classmates did, too.

"I know the girl who got salutatorian in my school, and she was just as smart as me," he said. "Sometimes, I don't think it's a fair assessment. ... There are people who have bad days and stuff, and sometimes a bad day will ruin your GPA."

GPAs can come down to hundredths and even thousandths of percentage points separating top students. That's often the case in the El Campo school district, said Superintendent Robert Pool, who's also the Region III representative in the Texas Association of School Administrators.

"I have seen, particularly in more recent years, just tremendous competition to see who's No. 1 and No. 2," Pool said. "I'm convinced of this. ... It's because of the scholarship dollars. And when you're talking about thousandths of a point separating No. 1 and No. 2, is that really the direction we ought to be going?"

Pool said he's noticed more emphasis being placed on attracting valedictorians with scholarships, an incentive that can make the GPA stakes even higher and competition even crazier. But with the aptitude among top students so similar, Pool said, all kids who are clearly capable and smart should be given scholarship opportunities.

Texas law calls for all students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class to be granted automatic admission into state schools.

"That's probably a better way to go - to look at the top 10 percent rather than necessarily having a No. 1 or a No. 2. But it is something that's traditional, and it's been around a long time," Pool said.

Though he's not inclined to do away with the tradition of valedictorian, Pool said, he sees value in revamping the system.

For example, El Campo recently changed its weighting system to allow students opportunities to take more electives. Advanced courses are still weighted more heavily, but students are no longer penalized for taking athletics or one of the fine arts, Pool said.

He also said students can get so caught up in wanting to beat out their classmates, they learn to "game the system," by working out easier schedules with perhaps more lenient teachers.

"I don't know that there's anything wrong with that, but I think it does distract sometimes from learning," Pool said.

Any competition surrounding Turner's rise in the ranks is now a memory after one year out of high school. He's a biochemistry major at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, where he'll graduate in three years. With more years of education ahead of him in graduate school, Turner said, he's thankful for his title, but being named valedictorian doesn't hold much clout these days.

"It pretty much doesn't mean that much now," he said. "Now that I'm here, none of my professors care. As far as their classes, I still have to do the same work as everybody else."

Pro: Valedictorian process inspires top students, healthy competition

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