Carroll school to end valedictorian honor

Some say students avoiding tough courses

February 06, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Concerned that the annual naming of a high school valedictorian encourages some straight-A contenders to forgo challenging courses in favor of those in which A's are more easily had, the faculty at South Carroll High has voted to abolish the long-held graduation tradition.

The decision will not affect this year's graduating class or the juniors, sophomores and freshmen enrolled at South Carroll. The practice will begin with next year's freshmen and will leave only one Carroll County school - Liberty High in Eldersburg - that plans to continue recognizing the top-ranked student or students at a public graduation ceremony.

"There were some faculty members who expressed concern about highly able students who were not taking challenging courses because they were afraid it would impact" their grade point averages, said George Phillips, principal of South Carroll High.

Since Carroll County began weighting grades about three years ago, student GPAs have been calculated by awarding more points and giving greater weight to high grades earned in higher-level classes, which are called Level 4 courses in Carroll public schools.

"Some students will figure out that if they get an A in a Level 3 class, that's better than B or C in a Level 4 class," Phillips said. "So they'll duck the Level 4 class - even though it might provide better preparation for college down the road - so they can get the better GPA. It happens once in a while, and we didn't think that was an appropriate way for kids to apply their academic skills."

Faculty members also supported abolishing the practice of recognizing valedictorians because what once had been a singular honor has been watered down in recent years as multiple students have qualified for the distinction.

At South Carroll High, where anyone with straight A's is recognized as a valedictorian in an Olympics-style medal ceremony at graduation, a record 12 students shared the honor in 1999.

"That kind of leads to a false impression of what `valedictorian' means," Phillips said.

Other Carroll high schools have abandoned the practice during the past two decades. North Carroll High in Hampstead has not declared a valedictorian in at least the past 16 years. Westminster High has not done so for at least 10 years. Francis Scott Key High, near Union Bridge, abandoned the tradition several years ago for reasons similar to those of the South Carroll faculty.

Carroll's two newest high schools have not had a graduating class.

Principal Andrew Cockley of Century High, which opened in August 2001 in Eldersburg, said he has appointed a committee that this spring will help determine the school's graduation practices, including whether to recognize valedictorians. A guidance counselor at Winters Mill High, which opened in August outside Westminster, said the school has no plans to name a valedictorian when its first class graduates in June 2005.

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