There was a time when “honor student” was awarded only to the very best students.
At my high school if you were an honor student it was shown in your high school yearbook. In my class 10 percent of the students were honor students. In addition, the valedictorian (only one) and salutatorian (only one) were of course shown.
“Self esteem” was never considered. In fact we had never heard of it.
Now contrast this with Manhasset High School.
Not too many years ago there was a list of students regularly published in the local newspaper who were “high honor students” or just “honor students.”
Initially the percentage of students in these two categories was around 30 percent. Over the years this percentage grew dramatically to more than 60 percent. The honorable objective of all this was to enhance the self esteem of as many students as possible.
But as the percentage grew it was realized that it was having a reverse effect on the self esteem of the small and dwindling group of students who did not make the list. As the list grew longer and longer I predicted that eventually they would have to discontinue it, and so it was.
There were five valedictorians and two salutatorians in this year’s Manhasset High School class. It is not difficult to figure that there were many students with very high grade scores.
A college recruiter recently said that this super grade escalation has made it very difficult to determine who are the really excellent students, so he said we are having to rely on SAT scores more and more.
The Manhasset school administration is aware of this situation (last year as I recall there were only four valedictorians!) and are considering rating courses with “degree of difficulty” factors as the current system is unfair to those students taking such difficult courses as college calculus, advanced physics etc.
These are the subjects that are necessary in order to attain a science or engineering degree that are in such high demand.
This escalation problem is not new. It has, however, gained momentum over the years.
I was interviewing graduate students at Ohio State University eons ago and out of 16 students I interviewed, 12 had grade point averages of above 4.0.
How could that be I asked one of them. After all, 4.0 is perfect. How can one be more than perfect?
He explained that an A+ was 4.25, an A was 4.0 and an A- was 3.75.
Still I wondered how the one student achieved a 4.22 GPA. He explained to me that in many courses you could ask to do extra work and this would increase your recorded test score.
I found out later that many, even Ivy league colleges, were employing this scheme but it was discarded years ago.