One number shouldn’t decide number one


Valedictorian is one of the highest titles one can achieve in their high school career. Defined as a student with the highest academic achievements of the class, this student delivers the valedictory at a graduation ceremony, the goodbye. It is awarded to the one who represents the academic best of the entire graduating class, a high honor. But at Piedmont, this esteemed award is based entirely on Grade Point Average (GPA), a single number that supposedly represents all of one’s academic achievement. 

GPA is not enough to determine the academic quality of a student, not only because there is more to school and learning than just grades, but also because of how the number is computed. At our school, an A in a regular class is a 4, and an A in a weighted (honors or AP) class counts as a 5. Then the numbers from all classes are averaged to determine your semester GPA. At the end of high school, with 8 semesters under your belt, all 8 GPAs are averaged to create a single number that, in the selection process for valedictorians, represents the entirety of your academic achievement.

This is not a complete picture of a student’s academic profile. For example, Student A takes five weighted classes, two free periods, and they earn all As, so their GPA would be a 5.0. Student B takes those same five weighted classes plus two unweighted classes, gets straight As, and their GPA would come out to be a 4.71. Student B has taken on more work than Student A, but by looking at the numbers, Student A appears to have achieved more. 

A single number is an inaccurate and incomplete representation of an academic profile, so while the GPA may be a part of the process, there ought to be more added to the mix. Test scores like the SAT and ACT, subject tests, and AP tests should be considered, but we should also take into consideration more than just numbers. What about winning a spelling bee, or a science fair? Or taking on leadership roles in academic groups, like debate or mock trial? How about students who spend their summers in academic programs, or taking summer classes? And to take it even further, what about the kid who always raises their hand in class, who always contributes to the growth of the conversation?

Of course, at one point, it becomes much harder to measure academic achievement. Basing valedictorian on a single number simplifies the process into a small calculation, while adding on other unquantifiable things would make it a much more complex system. Limiting it to numbers also keeps it objective, so no favoritism can weigh the decision. However, it is invalid to say that one student achieved higher than their peers without taking into account all other accomplishments. If it’s too difficult to calculate the valedictorian, they could be nominated or chosen based on their entire academic profile.

Academic achievement is not defined solely by grades. The way GPA is calculated can be manipulated to give inaccurate impressions about how hard students are working and how academically successful they are. In addition, what students do on their own time academically deserves recognition. The valedictorian, who represents the highest quality of academic success at our school, is honored with the speech at graduation. It is not only an honor to win this remarkable title; it is the honor to say goodbye to high school on behalf of the entire graduating class. That’s worth more than a single number.