AHS Graduation 2018

Attleboro High School will try a different, more complex, yet fairer way of choosing the top students in the class. Above, the Class of 2018 during commencement ceremonies at Tozier-Cassidy field at Attleboro High School.

Before everyone starts sneering about “these kids today with their participation trophies,” let’s take a look at the way Attleboro High School will pick its valedictorian and salutatorian from now on.

Traditionally, those honors have gone to the top two students in the graduating class, as determined by grade point average.

Competition for those honors could be fierce, partly because, it was assumed, college admission offices took notice of class rank when offering spots to incoming freshmen.

The honors also came with the “privilege” of giving an address at commencement ceremonies — although whether having an already overstressed teenager get up and speak before an assemblage of classmates, parents and other assorted authority figures was ever much of a prize is an open question. (Even for most adults, public speaking is famously one of the top fears.)

But, according to AHS Principal Bill Runey, starting this year, that will change.

The students will be ranked in “deciles,” grouped by the top 10 percent, second 10 percent, and so on, but no more number 1 or number 2 students

Valedictorian and salutatorian speakers will be selected from the top 10 percent and honors programs using criteria other than just grades.

Runey has said the high school was changing with the times. For one thing, many top colleges no longer consider class rank in admissions, but use their own ranking systems.

For another, the differences between valedictorian, salutatorian and every other senior sometimes come down to fractions of points in GPA. (Bishop Feehan High School has tried to address some of this inequality by creating a spot for the number 3 student.) And some students, although more likely their parents, try to game the system by picking less challenging elective courses that boost a pupil’s average without enhancing learning.

Runey also points out that many schools have moved away from the decades-old class ranking system as out of date and unproductive.

But what about, you may ask, good old American competition, getting to be top dog, survival of the fittest and all that? It’s an argument a bit reminiscent of the outrage generated a few years ago when it emerged that in some place the youngest youth soccer teams were not keeping score during games.

What’s the point of playing if you don’t know who won?

Well, if you have ever watched really young kids playing soccer, you’d know that most goals are more a matter of luck than skill, with the scorer as surprised as anyone.

The point of those games, at the youngest level, is to teach the players about being part of a team. Cooperation is also as American as apple pie.

At Attleboro High this May, seniors will still graduate, and the best and brightest will still be honored under the new system, and not for just participating. And for those who worry the new system won’t be tough enough, it’s still high school. There will be plenty of drama to spare.

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