This story popped up in the American news media last week. I watched it shortly after reading Bambi Betts’ blog posting on . It got me thinking about another institutional structure standing in the way of progress; the GPA sorting system. This feeds into the arcane assessment structures of many schools, which of course feeds into the grading system, the grade level sorting, and the ultimate institutional marker, the transcript. At South Medford High School in Oregon, 21 students were deemed worthy of valedictorian honors, leading many experts to display skepticism, watering down of standards, everyone gets a ribbon, dumbing down of the curriculum, etc.
What I found noteworthy was the disconnect on both sides of the issue. The Principal praised the students for “having the work ethic and training to get through college.” One of the students said “I know what I have accomplished and I know what others have accomplished. And we’ve all accomplished different things.”
Hmmm. This is going to cause problems. As schools start becoming less ‘institutional’ and more dynamic, student centered spaces for learning, these systems are going to break down. Having one or twenty one valedictorians is not the point. Accomplishing different things but ending up with the same ‘number’ is. What are we going to consider learning and how we are going to continue to feel the need to provide proof of such for those other institutions called ‘higher learning?’ After all, aren’t we still going to have to measure this stuff?
I definitely don’t have the answer. But if we are going to continue to move the conversation away from conformity and calculations of achievement based on chemistry grades and more toward “accomplishing different things” then it’s going to be a mess, albeit a very interesting one.