Monday, December 18, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Don't quash valedictorian designation

Pasco Superintendent Kurt Browning wants to eliminate "valedictorian'' and ''salutatorian'' from the school system's vernacular. It's a misguided attempt to end the tradition of publicly acknowledging the highest level of scholastic achievement by high school seniors and the Pasco School Board members should reject it accordingly.

Browning's exercise is pointless because schools would still rank their senior classes according to students' grade-point averages. Telling students they finished first and second in a class of more than 400 students but then not calling them valedictorian and salutatorian is counterproductive to promoting academic excellence and just downright silly.

Browning envisions a more encompassing end-of-high-school recognition that would take into account grades, community service, leadership and perhaps other factors that would be awarded, akin to colleges and universities, with the Latin designations of cum laude (with honor), magna cum laude (with great honor) and summa cum laude (with highest honor). It's fine to spread the praise, but there is no need to eliminate the highest praise as part of a retooled recognition system.

Browning's plan also carries its own potential problems. Students already obtain community service to qualify for Florida's Bright Futures scholarships, so honoring it at graduation seems irrelevant. And, exactly how do you objectively measure leadership? Is the winner of a student government election based on popularity more of a leader than an Eagle Scout?

There is no doubt that some parents game the system by choosing the school their children will attend and the classes in which they will enroll in order to achieve the valedictorian status. That will not automatically end if the district's vocabulary switches from valedictorian to "No. 1 in the class.''

Browning admitted his personal angst elevated after a guidance counselor incorrectly informed one child she would be salutatorian when actually she finished third after learning her online advanced placement class did not post mid year grades. (Class ranks are calculated after the first semester of senior year.) "Deciding who are the vals and sals is messy at best. It's messy every year,'' he said.

But that is an understood by-product of school choice with online, honors, dual enrollment and advanced placement classes all contributing to weighted grade-point calculations delineated in the student progression plan for incoming freshmen. Besides, avoiding confrontational meetings with helicopter parents is a poor reason to abandon a nearly universal academic tradition

The Pasco School Board is scheduled to consider the idea July 1 as part of the district's updated student progression plan and it will hold a final vote in August. If approved, it would become effective for the incoming freshman class, effectively ending the valedictorian-salutatorian tradition for the 2018 graduates. Board members should kill this plan if Browning does not withdraw it.

Identifying the valedictorian/salutatorian goes hand in hand with hearing Pomp and Circumstance, walking across the stage to receive a diploma and tossing a mortarboard skyward. It's wrong to end the tradition just because someone thinks it's messy.

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