A state lawmaker has introduced legislation that would require school districts in Ohio to name a valedictorian and a salutatorian.
The House bill introduced by Republican state Rep. Niraj Antani, of Miamisburg, comes after Mason High School in southwestern Ohio decided that it will stop awarding those academic honors.
Many schools traditionally have bestowed the valedictorian title on the graduating student with the highest cumulative grade-point average. The salutatorian title traditionally has gone to the student with the second-highest average.
Antani says the gist of what the legislation is saying is that “academic competition is good,” The Columbus Dispatch reported.
“At the end of the day, in public education we’ve had valedictorians forever,” Antani said. “We should reward them because they’re going to be the next CEOs in Ohio, the next scientists in Ohio. They’re going to be the top achievers.”
Most Ohio high schools still name valedictorians and salutatorians, but some — typically large suburban high schools — have stopped the practice due to concerns about unhealthy competition or students forgoing rigorous coursework just to achieve an A, said Tom Ash, director of governmental relations for the Buckeye Association of School Superintendents.
Some districts bestow the valedictorian title on dozens of students who meet certain criteria. Dublin Schools in Franklin County named more than 300 valedictorians across three high schools this year — any student with a 4.1 GPA or higher.
The bill in the House would allow districts to set criteria for selecting valedictorians and salutatorians, but currently limits each district to only one award recipient in each category. Antani has said he is open to amending that to allow multiple award winners.
Some Ohio education groups have said they oppose any state bill mandating decisions they say should be made at the local level.
Individual school districts and those at the local level are in the best position to decide what is in the best interest of their students and their communities,” said Will Schwartz, an Ohio School Boards Association lobbyist.
Over time, class rank has dropped significantly as a factor in college application reviews, according to David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy for the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
About 27% of colleges the group surveyed in 2017 said class rank was of “no importance” when admitting freshmen. Respondents gave higher priority to grades, strength of curriculum, admission-test scores, essays and recommendations from teachers and counselors.
High schools gradually have moved away from class ranking and honoring just one student, with many preferring to simply recognize students who have performed above a certain level, similarly to colleges, Hawkins said.
Jack Conrath, senior lecturer of educational administration at Ohio State University, said debate on the issue of valedictorians and salutatorians is one of cultural preference based on limited research.
“Most people knee-jerk based on their own cultures and beliefs,” said Conrath.