A long time ago, our society allowed competition to supplant achievement at the top of the chart for high school graduates.
The titles of Valedictorian, Salutatorian and Historian were established as the Win, Place and Show of secondary education.
That is, it doesn't make as much difference how high your grade point average (your individual achievement) as how you compared to other students in your graduating class. The young people who finish fourth through last are simply the Also-Rans.
The impetus to win that race has been made even stronger by the offer by many state universities of a full scholarship based on Validictorian status alone. It has promoted the phenomenon of manipulating the system through "class shopping," the seeking out of a graduating class where a student's GPA would be placed at the top at graduation time, no matter if the student had attended that school previous to their senior year. And, in those instances where a top student transfered for other reasons, such as the availability of specialized classes, it created the ill-informed impression that the student had shopped.
In either case, the resulting controversy becomes a distraction to the mission at hand - honoring and rewarding academic achievement and excellence.
The Warren County School District has grappled with this dilemma in the past and continues to do so, and we suggest a solution.
Discard the top-three designation in favor of a Latin honors system employed by most colleges and universities based on individual achievement and not how an individual student compares to others.
Such variables as advanced placement courses, additional courses and dual enrollment college-level courses would, of course, be noted on a student's transcript and would contribute in a weighted fashion to their grade point average.
The district would not be exploring new ground. The Fairview School District in Erie County already designates Summa Cum Laude for its top students (within fractions of a grade point of the top school), Magna Cum Laude (a somewhat lesser level of GPA) and Cum Laude (a third-tier). Its official ranking policy states the very issues faced by the WCSD, and we suspect many, many more school districts.
As for that validictorian-specific scholarship, we would submit that any student graduating Summa Cum Laude would be in line for the largest academic scholarships at both public and private colleges and universities.