Indiana

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Why Indiana School Districts Will Rethink Valedictorian Rankings

Across Indiana, school districts plan to ditch valedictorian rankings in favor of new ranking models. (Lauren Chapman/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Across Indiana, school districts plan to ditch valedictorian rankings in favor of new ranking models. (Lauren Chapman/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

It’s no secret. Top students battle it out each year for one title: Valedictorian.

Now, as school years come to a close, across Indiana schools will rethink that school ranking, including schools in Hamilton County, Kokomo and Fort Wayne.

As schools look to the future, it’s the latest as schools plan to do away with a ranking model some label “archaic.”

There’s an expression that goes “goals are dreams, with deadlines.” For Thomas Gnadinger, that deadline is this year. His senior year of high school.

“I’ve always wanted to get to the valedictorian spot,” says Gnadinger, a senior at Charlestown High School.

At the southern Indiana high school, Gnadinger works hard. He’s a straight-A student and does a lot with music: From a capella groups to music theory classes to marching band.

He’s been in marching band since eighth grade.

“And I started actually going to graduations. I had to play the tuba with a band,” Gnadinger says. “So I was understanding the role of valedictorian and what they did.”

Gnadinger saw himself as valedictorian.

“I was thinking in my head ‘I want to get that,’” Gnadinger says.

So he put in the work – even travelled to other schools to take specific classes. By his senior year, it looked like he’d get valedictorian, too.

A self-proclaimed math-lover, Gnadinger was crushing school.

“There was a little bit of trouble at the beginning of the year because there was a deal with three people being in the line for valedictorian,” Gnadinger says.

The school was in a predicament.

“We were faced with this dilemma of how do you make sure the student who is taking the most difficult coursework ends up being your valedictorian?,” says Lori Stinson, a counselor at Charlestown High School

She says it’s become an annual problem to name a valedictorian.

“People think that that is a simple designation,” Stinson says. “It is much more complicated than that.”

Lori Stinson is a counselor at Charlestown High School in Charlestown, Indiana. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Lori Stinson is a counselor at Charlestown High School in Charlestown, Indiana. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/Indiana Public Broadcasting)

Like many districts across Indiana, Charlestown has weighted grade point averages. Classes like Advanced Placement classes carry more heft. That is, in part, to encourage students to take hard classes, instead of fearing a bad grade could ruin their GPA.

“Our plan of encouraging students to take harder level coursework, more difficult courses, that part was still working,” Stinson says. “But the valedictorian recognition wasn’t.”

In fact, this year, counselors docked a credit from someone who had a high GPA, but hadn’t taken the hardest classes.

That put Gnadinger, that student from earlier, in the valedictorian spot.

“Once I finally got there I was like ‘Yes! I made it,’” Gnadinger says.

But counselor Stinson says the system doesn’t work for everyone.

“Students who were trying to manipulate their course choices so that they could be valedictorian and not making course choices that were best for their planned career,” Stinson says.

She’s seen students change their class schedules so their GPAs would boost them into the valedictorian spot.

“And they also want us to feed them what is so and so taking,” Stinson says. “That’s not healthy either.”

So district officials came up with a new system: Cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude, determined by grade point average.

Steve Griffin, assistant superintendent for Greater Clark County Schools, says if you make above a certain GPA you’ll get an honor. Griffin hopes the laude system promotes collaboration.

“It diminishes the unhealthy competition because If I come in third place out of 500 students I shouldn’t feel like a failure,” Griffin says. “I had a great high school career.”

It’s not just Indiana schools embracing change. The trend is national, too. Colleges recognize that. They give more weight to student course loads and extracurriculars. Greater Clark County Schools will adopt the new model in 2020.

“The valedictorian and salutatorian had a great run,” Griffin says. “In today’s current society I really feel like the laude system is a more appropriate and fair system for students.”

New system, but same deadline. Senior year.

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