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Valedictorians no more: N.C. school board does away with ‘unhealthy’ competition

Valedictorian will be sad to see current honor system eliminated

Emma Goodwin, 18, valedictorian of the Wake Young Women's Leadership Academy in Raleigh, talks about the Wake County school system potentially dropping valedictorians and salutatorians in favor of using the Latin honors system.
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Emma Goodwin, 18, valedictorian of the Wake Young Women's Leadership Academy in Raleigh, talks about the Wake County school system potentially dropping valedictorians and salutatorians in favor of using the Latin honors system.

High school valedictorians are on the verge of becoming a thing of the past in Wake County as school leaders cut down on what they call unhealthy competition among top-achieving students.

The Wake County school board unanimously gave initial approval Tuesday to a policy that would bar high school principals from naming valedictorians and salutatorians – titles which go to the two seniors with the highest grade-point averages – after 2018. Starting in 2019, high schools would begin using a new system that recognizes seniors with Latin titles such as cum laude if they have a weighted GPA of at least 3.75.

School board members said the change will allow students to take more of the courses they’d like rather than just the ones that will boost their GPA and class rank.

“We have heard from many, many schools that the competition has become very unhealthy,” school board Chairman Tom Benton said in an interview. “Students were not collaborating with each other the way that we would like them to. Their choice of courses was being guided by their GPA and not their future education plans.”

Final approval of the policy change could come June 7. If the change is approved, state law will still require Wake to record class rank on student transcripts.

Wake is planning to switch to a system similar to the language that colleges use to recognize high-achieving students.

The new policy proposes using the Latin honors system of recognizing students with a weighted GPA of 4.25 or higher with the distinction of summa cum laude. Seniors with a weighted GPA of 4.0 to 4.249 would receive the distinction of magna cum laude.

Seniors with a weighted GPA of 3.75 to 3.99 could receive the designation of cum laude.

The new system would result in more seniors being recognized. Benton said this is a better approach, especially in schools where there could be 400 to 600 seniors, for recognizing students than just to single out one or two students in a ranking that could come down to a thousandths of a decimal point.

“We think it’s much healthier to set high expectations and high requirements for magna cum laude,” Benton said. “The students now have a target that they can shoot for and if they achieve that they’re recognized for that.”

Most Wake high schools now name a valedictorian and salutatorian, who generally make a speech at graduation. Benton said the board is not considering using both valedictorians and salutatorians and the Latin honors system.

There was no opposition voiced to the change at the board meeting. But previously, critics on online forums have accused Wake of being “politically correct” with the change.

“I love competition,” Benton said. “But there are competitions that you can measure very correctly and they do spur people on to bigger and better things.

“There are competitions that are much harder to have objective measurements and grading falls into that. You’ve got the subjectivity of grades being determinate.”

Shraya Changela, 18, salutatorian of the Wake Young Women's Leadership Academy in Raleigh, talks about the Wake County school system potentially dropping valedictorians and salutatorians in favor of using the Latin honors system.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

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