You Might Not Need The Best Grades To Be Valedictorian

You Might Not Need The Best Grades To Be Valedictorian

There is no perfect way to measure knowledge and academic ability, but criteria such as ACT scores are not the way to go.
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Are you a fan of standardized testing? No, I didn't think so. Neither am I. That is why I am surprised to find out that my old high school will soon use ACT scores and other unusual criteria as significant factors in determining who receives the honors of valedictorian and salutatorian.

Before I begin, I want to clarify that I have not yet delved into the details as to why my high school is making these changes. I am simply writing about my reaction to what I read in the updated handbook after hearing talk about the new rules. There is no doubt that the changes have been made for important and logical reasons; I simply want to share my opinion on why I believe titles such as valedictorian and salutatorian should be based strictly on GPA, and why standardized tests like the ACT are not fair measurements of knowledge and ability. I am fully aware that the traditional practice of using GPA to determine these honors can be a controversial topic.For instance, it has led to some schools having graduation classes with dozens of valedictorians at the same time. Another worry is that awarding these titles based on GPA prevents a collaborative school environment because of intense competition. While these are valid concerns, they are surely not the norm in most high schools. From what I remember as a valedictorian myself, they are certainly not concerns in the high school that I attended. This leads to my next point. Titles such as valedictorian and salutatorian are considered academic honors. Therefore, they should continue to rely solely on high school academics. That is not possible when relying mainly on ACT scores instead of GPA. The knowledge and academic performance from nearly four years of high school cannot be adequately measured by a mere three-hour test.

Another component of my high school's new requirements is that contenders for the titles must be a member of the National Honor Society. This seems to stray away from the academic focus. While academic excellence is an important value of NHS, other focuses such as service and leadership should not be tied to the title of valedictorian. Do not get me wrong- I think that all of NHS's values are very important and I was an officer in it myself, but I see it as a very separate honor from being valedictorian.

I should clarify that the new policies at my high school still require valedictorians and salutatorians to have a high GPA. Students must receive Summa Cum Laude honors in order to be eligible contenders, which means they must earn a 4.0 GPA or higher (up to a 4.5 GPA can be earned with honors and AP classes). This helps ensure that simply guessing well on the ACT is not enough, but for close contenders, it still results in largely a game of luck.

My personal experience might help explain why that is so. I took the ACT several times throughout all years of high school. I rented books about it from the library, took a prep course through the school, and even had a few private tutoring sessions at the end of junior year as a desperate attempt to score high. My scores steadily improved overall, which is the logical outcome. If the ACT is so good at determining academic abilities, though, why was my score on the reading section highest during freshman year? Flukes like that are not unusual phenomena--there are even students whose overall ACT drops after taking it a second time.

My highest score was a 32, which is fairly decent, but it cost quite a bit of money to get there. Not everyone can afford to pay for the ACT more than once, let alone to pay for tutoring. With tutoring, my own score jumped an entire four points within just a few months. Did I learn 4 points worth of material during those months? No. I learned the tips and tricks of the game, combined with a bit (or a lot) of good luck. Titles such as valedictorian and salutatorian shouldn't depend on either of those two factors.

Studying for the ACT is important for college admissions, and that is stressful enough as it is. Making the test a part of achieving the highest academic honor in high school is unnecessary. It is more important to devote time and energy to classes and extracurriculars rather than memorizing material that is routinely on the ACT right before the test.

You might be wondering what happens if eligible students have tied ACT scores, especially in a school with a few hundred students per class. There is a backup plan set up for that, a backup plan for the backup plan, and so on. What these plans consist of, though, is not much different than the ACT itself.

If there are contending students tied with the highest ACT, the valedictorian and salutatorian are determined by points earned from state testing. This is similarly problematic to the ACT. If students are still tied, then GPA will finally be the deciding factor.

While I doubt there will still be a tie after this, there are more backups. One includes choosing the individual with the most service hours submitted for National Honors Society. Maybe it is just me, but it doesn't seem right to claim the title of high school valedictorian or salutatorian because you complete more service hours than your competitor.

There is no perfect way to measure knowledge and academic ability. There probably never will be. I am certain, though, that criteria such as ACT scores are not the way to get as close to perfect as possible.

Cover Image Credit: Petya McNeal

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7 Truths About Being A Science Major

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Whether your major is Human Bio, Chemistry, Neuroscience or any other that deals with a lot of numbers, theories, experiments and impossibly memorizing facts, you know the pressures of pursuing a career in this field. So without further ado, here are seven truths about being a science major:

1. There is no “syllabus week.”

Coming back to college in the fall is one of the best times of the year. Welcome week has become most students' favorite on-campus holiday. But then you have syllabus week: another widely celebrated week of no responsibilities… Unless you’re a science major that is. While your other friends get to enjoy this week of getting to know their professors and class expectations, you get to learn about IUPAC nomenclature of alkanes on the first day of organic chem.

2. Your heart breaks every time you have to buy a new textbook.

Somehow every professor seems to have their own “special edition” textbook for class… And somehow it’s always a couple hundred bucks… And somehow, it's ALWAYS required.

3. Hearing "attendance is not mandatory," but knowing attendance is VERY mandatory.

Your professor will tell you that they don’t take attendance. Your professor will put all lecture slides online. Your professor will even record their lectures and make those available as well. Yet if you still don’t go to class, you’ll fail for sure. Coming into lecture after missing just one day feels like everyone has learned an entire new language.

4. You’re never the smartest person in your class anymore.

No matter what subject, what class or what concentration, there will always be someone who is just that much better at it than you.

5. You get totally geeked out when you learn an awesome new fact.

Today in genetics you learned about mosaicism. The fact that somebody can have a disease in part of their total body cells but normal throughout all others gets you so hype. Even though you know that your family, friends and neighbors don’t actually care about your science facts, you HAVE to tell them all anyways.

6. There is never enough time in a day.

You are always stuck choosing between studying, eating, sleeping and having fun. If you're lucky, you'll get three of these done in one day. But if you're a risk taker, you can try to do all of these at once.

7. You question your major (and your sanity) almost daily.

This is especially true when it’s on a Tuesday night and you’ve already consumed a gallon of Starbucks trying to learn everything possible before your . Or maybe this is more prevalent when you have only made it through about half of the BioChem chapter and you have to leave for your three hour lab before your exam this afternoon. Regardless, you constantly wonder if all the stress is actually worth it, but somehow always decide that it is.

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I Had School Choice, And It Better Prepared Me For College

Not all students can excel in the traditional brick-and-mortar school setting.

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As the years progress and people grow tired of traditional public education, more and more options of schooling are opening up: charter schools, virtual schools, magnet schools, Montessori schools—the list goes on. Some people see this as detrimental to traditional public education and claim that charter schools and such are taking money away from public schools, but these schools are not doing that. In fact, charter schools are public schools, and they most times receive less funding due to costs such as food, transportation, and the costs of running a traditional school building are eliminated. With these areas cut, charter schools are able to pay their teachers more generously and have higher per-pupil funding, which is increasing with their rapid enrollment. Oklahoma-based Epic Charter Schools, the virtual, one-to-one charter school I attended, is first in teacher pay and fourteenth in enrollment statewide. Having the option to go from a traditional school setting to something as innovative as Epic Charter Schools benefited me, and my graduating class of over 1000, tremendously and prepared me for college better than any brick-and-mortar school could have.

Throughout my schooling, I always went to public school. School was my absolute favorite thing. I'm the kind of person who gets extremely excited to buy school supplies and choose my classes. In elementary, I became a part of the gifted and talented program, and I never found school particularly challenging. This didn't bother me when I was younger because it seemed like there was always something to do after classwork was finished, such as coloring sheets, reading, etc. But when I got into middle school, this changed and I stopped liking school as a whole. When I would finish my work in class, there would be nothing to do and it was always too loud to read, so I was at a loss. Because of the lack of challenge for me, when I knew there would be nothing for me to do in class, or it was just going to be a day where we watched a movie, I wouldn't go to school. I did this so often that in middle school I actually failed classes that I had As in because of my attendance. The fact that I failed classes because of my absences didn't surprise me as much as the fact that I could keep As in said classes while missing so many days that they decided to fail me.

My freshman year went about the same as my middle school years—I was still missing a lot of class, and I started putting less and less effort into my work because I just didn't like school anymore. Finally, in my sophomore year after I started driving, I quit going to school altogether. I had heard of Epic Charter Schools, and I took it into my own hands to get enrolled and withdraw from my brick-and-mortar. My family wasn't too supportive of this, but I pushed for it hard enough that they finally came around.

The first semester of Epic was rough, to say the least. It was the first time in a long time that my work was challenging, and whoever says a virtual school is easy, you're completely wrong. The difficulty of virtual school doesn't even come from the subject matter; it comes from the accountability. I had a teacher, but she wasn't at my house every day telling me to do my work, so I put it off for weeks at a time. After some time, I finally found a schedule and the following semesters' virtual classes were a breeze because my time management skills had developed so much.

When my junior year came around, I was excited to start concurrent enrollment at a local community college. Through Epic, I was allowed to take as many college courses as I wanted as long as I was taking at least one class through Epic. At a typical public school, students are only allowed to take two per semester; I was taking four, sometimes five college classes while still in high school, and they were actually challenging me.I'm sure most people think that sounds expensive, but it really wasn't. In the state of Oklahoma, high school students receive a waiver for six credit hours' tuition for no cost, only fees are paid. For me, through Epic I received an additional eight-hundred dollars in a learning fund, which I applied to my tuition. I also received a tribal scholarship for my concurrent courses in exchange for completing community service hours.

Through Epic, I was able to complete 52 hours of college credit completely debt-free WHILE STILL ENROLLED IN HIGH SCHOOL! The summer after I graduated, I completed my Associate's degree at Tulsa Community College (61 credit hours), which all transferred to my current school, the University of Oklahoma where I am studying Language Arts Education to become a teacher (if you're reading this, Epic administrators, call me in 2020 when I'm certified).

Not only am I graduating college two years early, but I am also saving my future self at least 50 thousand dollars of debt.

Most importantly, though, through Epic, I regained my love for learning.

Epic high school students and traditional students alike: please take advantage of the opportunities presented to you whether it be concurrent enrollment or vocational school. After high school, you will be so glad to have some college experience before going to a four-year university or to have a certificate to move into the workforce.

As the Epic's motto says: school CAN be different.


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