Many schools no longer name valedictorians

LOUISVILLE — School districts in Kentucky are beginning to move away from naming valedictorians for graduating classes.

Instead, districts such as Bullitt County plan to de-emphasize what could be seen as unhealthy competition and recognize all high achievers.

Dave Marshall, Bullitt County's director of secondary education, told The Courier-Journal the district will begin a new tradition with the Class of 2014.

Under the plan, he said, students may graduate summa cum laude with a grade-point average of 4.25 or higher and magna cum laude with a GPA of 4.0 to 4.24. Students would come up with a way to pick a graduation speaker.

Gentry Collins, 17, valedictorian this year at North Bullitt High, will be one of its last. Collins said she worked toward the achievement by taking advanced placement classes, monitoring her GPA and her class ranking.

"Ever since I started high school, I knew I wanted to be that one person," Collins said. "I wanted to be the one up there giving that speech."

The district's decision reflects a growing state and national trend. Other districts in the state, including Jefferson and Oldham, don't name only one valedictorian.

Although some students say the competitive rankings motivate them, school officials say the system has become outdated as colleges put less emphasis on them.

"There has definitely been a movement in recent years away from ranking students," said Mel Riddile, associate director for high school services for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "The reality is that it's about half (of high schools) that do and half that don't anymore."

In Bullitt County, Marshall said choosing a valedictorian "means you have some kids deciding their classes based off of whether it will mean they can beat so-in-so by a few hundredths of a point. It means you have other kids who are good students but don't even get considered for valedictorian because they aren't ready for AP classes."

In Jefferson County, the district for a decade has recognized students with GPAs of 4.0 or higher as valedictorians.

Students like Collins say high school rankings still have relevance. She said she received a $500 scholarship from the University of Kentucky for getting top honors.

"We still look at class rank, even if some other things like test scores or rigor of courses are generally more important," said Sandy Copher, director of UK's academic scholarship office.

The University of Louisville doesn't give scholarships to valedictorians, said Jenny Sawyer, executive director of admissions. She said the school is among several that have de-emphasized rank as a way to measure students because being No. 1 can mean different things at different schools.

Some students, though, say the competition has challenged them to do better.

Bullitt Central High School's valedictorians, Amanda Cape, 17, and Katie Miller, 18, are best friends.

"For us, it really was more of a healthy competition, and it's neat to know we did it together," Miller said. "But it is kind of an honor to be a valedictorian and be recognized, so I think that it's good to try to include more people in that. I'm just glad that we still get to have the honor before they change it."

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