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Everyone’s a Winner

My high school had a weighted GPA system that took into account the level of different classes. For example, receiving an ‘A’ in a regular class would count as 4.00 while receiving the same grade in an honors class would earn you a 4.33. An AP class would raise the average even higher with a 4.67, so it was no surprise that the valedictorian of the class graduated with a GPA that was above a 4.5.

I always thought the system to be fair until I entered my junior and senior years, when the arts requirement was no longer necessary and “the smart kids” stopped taking them altogether. I continued taking music and art classes until I graduated because I loved these subjects; I also knew for a fact that many of the “smart kids” appreciated those classes as well and couldn’t understand why they would cease taking them.

Then one of them explained the cause: taking an arts class — which did not have honors or AP levels — would bring down their GPA.

I haven’t thought about my high school grading system in years. But I was forced to revisit it this morning as I read an article in The NYTimes talking about the growing trend in high schools to do away with the traditional valedictorian system and have as many as 30 top students up on the podium as co-valedictorians in order to reduce pressure and competition among students.

Co-valedictorians at Lyons High School in Colorado

My first thought after reading the article was, “Here we go again — this is just an extension of kids receiving medals and trophies just for ‘participating.’ Whatever happened to having clear-cut winners and losers? This is why the U.S. is so behind in education.”

While I agree that we should honor the top students in a graduating class, especially the ones who were just mere fractions of fractions away from the top GPA, I also believe that this is what honor societies, special cords and sashes, and the “summa cum laude” and “magna cum laude” designations are designed to do.

I have always believed that lessening the importance of achievements in order to avoid stepping on others’ toes, especially starting at a young age, does nothing but add to the entitlement generation and only paves the way for future disappointments.

However, with my own high school’s grading system in mind, I cannot help but wonder why some of my peers were discouraged — however indirectly — from pursuing their interests, hobbies, and/or dreams for the sole purpose of keeping their GPAs at elite levels. Were they smart to take advantage of the system? Or should they have taken the classes they wanted in order to learn what they wanted to learn?

Does a system that is both fair and beneficial to the students even exist?