After next week, Eden Prairie High School will no longer name valedictorians. It's the latest school to abandon the time-tested title in favor of a different honors system.
By Patrice Relerford, Star Tribune
Last update: May 29, 2007 – 1:20 PM
When Jennifer Nicklay, 18, and Eden Prairie High School's 22 other valedictorians walk across the stage and shake Principal Conn McCartan's hand next week, they'll be the last Eden Prairie graduates to receive the prestigious titles.
Nancy Nicklay, Jennifer's mother, said her daughter and other valedictorians listed on the 2007 graduation program never settled for anything less than excellence.
That's why the longtime Eden Prairie resident said she's not sure if the school district made the right call when it decided to nix the honor, for the students with the highest grade-point average, after this year.
"I'm not comfortable with this," Nancy Nicklay said. "We have a lot of kids who focus on academics in this district."
From now on, Eden Prairie will grant "honors" diplomas to students who take at least six advanced courses with a high overall GPA. School officials said the new system allows for broader recognition.
"In the past, there might be students who weren't on that stage who took more rigorous courses than valedictorians and salutatorians," McCartan said. "This expands the number of kids that we can honor."
Putting it in perspective
Maple Grove Senior High School in the Osseo School District stopped naming valedictorians and salutatorians years ago.
Instead, Principal Wendy Loberg said Maple Grove recognizes students who took honors or other rigorous courses and those with 4.0 GPAs -- on an unweighted scale -- at its graduation ceremony.
Eden Prairie's neighbor, the Minnetonka School District, will continue to name valedictorians and salutatorians after this year, but two years ago switched to weighted grades -- assigning more value to grades earned in Advanced Placement, college credit or other honors courses, spokeswoman Janet Swiecichowski said.
Swiecichowski said the Minnetonka school board will review its academic honors in the coming months.
Eden Prairie doesn't weight grades for advanced courses. Recognizing students who've taken six or more AP or college credit classes with an "honors" diploma will reward those students for their extra effort, McCartan said.
He said the decision to eliminate "vals and sals" was made three years ago but won't be implemented until next year so students and parents had enough notice.
A new system
Instead, students who completed six or more AP or College in the Schools courses and have GPAs of 3.5 or higher will get "honors" diplomas. Those who have GPAs of 3.9 and up, regardless of AP classes, will get gold cords to wear at graduation, and those with 3.75 to 3.89 GPAs will get silver cords.
Thomas Guskey, a University of Kentucky education professor, said naming valedictorians is a policy many schools continue because "we've always done it that way."
Guskey has done research on grading policies that work against maintaining the highest academic standards.
"I'm all for recognizing achievement and believe there are lots of valid reasons for doing so," Guskey said. "But I also believe that the process requires that we define what excellence really means in terms of explicit, rigorous achievement criteria, rather than in terms of standing among classmates."
A valedictorian's thoughts
Jennifer Nicklay said the district's new honors diploma system is good because it will honor more students, but she doesn't think it goes far enough in recognizing students who decided to take classes off site.
During her last three semesters of high school, Nicklay has taken courses at Normandale Community College.
"I was so ready to leave high school," she said.
The 18-year-old will attend the University of Minnesota in the fall and plans to study biology. She said taking colleges at Normandale or the U has helped her and other students stay engaged during their final years of high school.
"We all said we would still do it the same way even if we wouldn't graduate with honors," Nicklay said.
Edited by Andy Dufresne, 29 May 2007 - 12:09 PM.