Class Rank Weighs Down True Learning by Thomas R. Guskey

After The Speech

  • While studies of valedictorians show that they are generally successful, they don’t tend to be a the top of the class career wise. They work hard, follow the rules, but are rarely innovators or explorers of unfamiliar areas. Would it be better if these people who work within the rules were encouraged to question the rules and help create better rules. Would we be better off encouraging risk taking and persistence in the face of occasional failure? Certainly Guskey and Dr. Doug think so.


  • Feedback from some valedictorians has caused schools to adopt the honors system that many colleges use. This allows for all high achievers to be equally recognized and avoids the competition for a single spot that some say makes high school less pleasant. Some high schools now name multiple valedictorians. (Doug: That seems silly to me.) Selective colleges have also realized that students who devote themselves to getting the best grades may not necessarily have the qualities they are looking for. The University of Pennsylvania, for example, recently rejected 62% of the valedictorians who applied.
  • Today most colleges are interested in rigor over GPA. They look for advanced courses, the highest level of math taken, and the number of courses even if they include the arts. In short, it is important to recognize excellence in academic performance, but such recognition should not be grounded on norm-based criteria that leads to deleterious competition. Ideally, educators will focus on developing talent and helping all students obtain the highest standards possible based on their abilities.
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