The Cherry Hill East Class of 2024 has 25 valedictorians, a record-breaking number.
The Cherry Hill East Class of 2024 has 25 valedictorians, a record-breaking number.
Izzy Alvarez (’25)

Honoring Excellence or Diluting Distinction


Vale dicere.

Meaning “to bid farewell” in Latin, delivering the final address at a high school’s graduation ceremony — bidding the last farewell before students embark on a new chapter — is a longstanding honor typically reserved to the highest ranking student in the class: the valedictorian.

By most standards, the title of “valedictorian” represents an exceptional student who epitomizes academic excellence, excelling above their peers while pursuing a rigorous course load.

But what happens when the honor is expanded to more than one student? What about five? Fifteen? How about 25?

Such is the case at Cherry Hill High School East, where 25 students, tied for the coveted title of valedictorian, are expected to step on stage at the Class of 2024 graduation ceremony. This unprecedented number of valedictorians stems from grade inflation, as exacerbated by a flawed GPA system and a lack of course standardization. These factors prompt the question: Does the honor and validation of being valedictorian decrease as the quantity of students who hold this title increases?

Eastside sought to investigate the factors driving a recent increase in the number of valedictorians, student opinions and attitudes toward the situation, and potential solutions.

Contextual Information
Contextual Information

Some students attribute the high number of valedictorians in the Class of 2024 to the online school format of the 2020-2021 school year and its residual effects on grading.

“[The] system was perfectly fine pre-COVID, no complaints [and a] good amount of valedictorians,” wrote Christian Lee (‘24). “Valedictorian numbers largely inflated due to COVID and online.”

Indeed, in the years prior to the pandemic, the number of valedictorians was drastically smaller than the current number. In 2019, East graduated 9 valedictorians and in 2018, East graduated just 5 valedictorians. Meanwhile, the East Class of 2022, whose sophomore and junior years were affected by online learning, had 14 valedictorians and the Class of 2023, whose freshman and sophomore years were affected, had 13. Even the Class of 2025, whose high school careers were not impacted by online schooling, have an unusually high number of projected valedictorians (students with a perfect 7.0 weighted GPA)—23.

“To be honest, it could also come down to teachers just getting easier since COVID and not adjusting to becoming as hard as they were pre-COVID,” said Crystal Yeh (‘24).

While the increase in valedictorians does align with the period of online learning during the pandemic, this issue cannot be brushed aside as simply a sign of the times. Underlying issues, such as East’s unique grading system and the rising prevalence of online courses, must also be addressed and accounted for.

Grading System
Grading System

Across the majority of high schools that grant the title, “valedictorian” is a prestigious role that commends the top-performing student for their academic work. The title is typically well-respected and admired, but at Cherry Hill High School East, it has come to be shared among an entire top percentile of a class. This year, a record-breaking number of 25 valedictorians is expected to take the stage at graduation.

Regardless of whether or not these individuals deserve to be called a valedictorian, the large number of top-performing students could potentially cause the title to be viewed as a less impressive honor. A survey of 302 East students shows that much of the student body shares this opinion. Out of the students surveyed, 22.5% strongly agree that the number of valedictorians at East devalues class rankings, compared to 13.6% that strongly disagree. In general, the survey reveals that over half of the student body agrees to some degree. And in a survey of 31 members of Class of 2024’s Cum Laude, 51.6% strongly agree that the number of valedictorians at East devalues class rankings, compared to 0% that strongly disagree.

In part, this may be due to East’s grading system. Currently, the ranking for valedictorian does not take numerical grade into account past the initial letter. If an individual received an 89.5% in all of their classes across their four years at high school, that would be rounded up to a 90% — an A — and the individual would be ranked the same as an individual who received a 100% in every class. Although this system seems beneficial to students who consistently earn low A’s, it allows for the title of “valedictorian” to become significantly more achievable and therefore “waters down” the title.

To combat this and restrengthen the title, 55.63% of East students surveyed, in the general survey, believe there should be less than 10 valedictorians in a given year. But to get to that point, the underlying issue of grade discrepancies must first be addressed.

“By simply altering the weighting scale to one with pluses and minuses, we can mitigate the stress and encourage kids to do their best in the hardest classes [they] feel they can handle, rather than avoiding weighted classes entirely to maintain class rank and a perfect weighted GPA. If a student wanted to, they could take one AP class and non-weighted electives, have a perfect GPA, and be valedictorian. This is a flawed system,” says Ayal Englander (‘24).

Implementing a stricter grading system would allow for students with an 89.5 and a 100 in the same class to be ranked differently. It would take into account both the individual’s efforts in a class and the number grade they achieve in that given class, and could make the title of “valedictorian” more selective in upcoming years.

Online Courses
Online Courses

“Some kids can literally pay their way to an A, while others have to suffer an entire year. And maybe, they get that B and they’re not valedictorian anymore,” said Eloise Kipnis (‘24), referring to the rising prevalence of online classes.

Many students agree with Kipnis: taking courses online, especially notoriously difficult ones like AP U.S. History, allows students to maintain their rank more comfortably than if they had taken it in-person, primarily because of the fact that online courses are not accounted for when calculating weighted GPA.

East allows students to take courses online through a program called Educere. Yet, there is a price tag on these courses. According to Mr. Darren Gamel, an East Guidance Counselor, most full-year original credit courses are around $400 while half-year original credit courses are around $200. Credit recovery courses are around $200 for a full-year course and $100 for a half-year course.

For the 31 students surveyed in Cum Laude, 90.4% of students agreed or strongly agreed that online courses make it easier to be a valedictorian compared to 9.7% that disagreed or strongly disagreed.

In the survey of 302 East students, a majority of students, 59.6%, agreed or strongly agreed that online courses make it easier to be a valedictorian compared to 40.4% who disagreed or strongly disagreed that online courses make it easier to be a valedictorian.

One of the biggest contentions surrounding online courses are the advantages it creates for students that can afford the courses, which are weighted the same as core level classes despite being perceived as easier by many students. The district only provides financial support for credit recovery courses in the summer for rising seniors only. And still, the district only provided financial support for these courses as a result of the COVID-19 grants they received for students who were struggling academically during the pandemic.

The Hannover Report conducted based on Cherry Hill Public Schools student data between 2016 and 2020 showed that economically disadvantaged students were underrepresented in student success outcomes and significantly overrepresented in negative student outcomes. It reported, underscoring the intersectionality of racial disparities, “notably, forty-five percent of Hispanic students and 40 percent of Black students qualify as economically disadvantaged compared to 10 percent of white students.” Of the 31 students surveyed in Cum Laude (there are 54 members of the senior class in Cum Laude), 97% of students identified as White or Asian.

Thus, online courses serve as an evident barrier for students, exacerbating existing socioeconomic and racial inequalities present in how students reach the valedictorian title, a title that can serve dividends later on in life.

“Obviously, that’s a really big systemic problem at East when looking at which kids can succeed and which can’t,” said Kipnis. “I know many people that… took AP Physics and then switched to being online so they could avoid getting a B.”

Yet, one recurrent contention among proponents of online classes is that it helps students specialize in their areas of interests earlier, giving them a chance to circumvent general education classes. However, some see the title of valedictorian as one that represents a wide breadth of knowledge and excelling of various topics.

“I do like the thought of a valedictorian as this kind of ideal picture of the liberal arts student. They excel in all categories… in all realms of knowledge” said Andrew Langmuir (‘24).

Yet, if students are merely taking the classes online to further their education, should they be punished? Is it fair to give a B to a student that is taking a class online because they believe the school is inadequately preparing them in those subjects?

“I’m not [opposed] to taking health, gym, and financial literacy online. I think if the school really had an issue with people taking financial literacy online, they’d make the curriculum a bit more relevant. They would include information that can actually help us in life that can’t be looked up on Google in five minutes,” said Langmuir.

However, for many core classes, some say that taking online classes can be an impediment to one’s education. Taking an online class is not only easier but also can not prepare students for the skills core classes are supposed to be equipping students with, but still provides them the same grade as another student taking a more difficult course in-person.

“I was talking to one of my friends that hasn’t taken in-person history and maybe they took like freshman year World Civ, but they never took U.S. history. And I was just asking them common U.S. history questions that I felt like is common knowledge for any kid that’s taken APUSH, and then they didn’t know any of it. But then I was like, you know about the major things like the genocide of the Native Americans and that and they were just like, um not really,” Usra Aslam (‘24) said.

In conclusion, allowing students to take online core classes, with no influence on their GPA, overlooks the disparities in difficulty of curriculum between in-school and online classes. While a majority of students agree that online courses make the process of attaining valedictorian status easier, the stark reality is that their advantages are only attainable for students whose families can afford the classes, often perpetuating systemic issues, specifically in terms of the performance gap between students of different races and socioeconomic status.

Varying Coursework
Varying Coursework

In navigating the academic landscape at East, students employ various strategies to secure the coveted title of valedictorian. Aside from circumventing challenging classes through the use of online courses, the system allows students to use varying course levels to their advantage.

“I found that there are many valedictorians that took many easy classes in order to keep the rank and the perfect GPA” wrote Kayley Phan (‘25).

At East, among the courses that fall within the AP/Honors level, students have discerned that certain classes are comparatively easier to secure an A in than others. This prompts them to strategically choose these less demanding courses in an effort to safeguard their rank.

Thus, some students are pushing for a shift to weigh AP classes differently (depending on their difficulty) to differentiate students taking the “easy APs” versus their more rigorous counterparts.

“You don’t have to take hard classes, you just can’t take anything below honors,” said Noah Yang (‘24). “I think the rigor of courses isn’t really put into perspective with our GPAs.”

However, issues arise as it is notably difficult to objectively decide the difficulty level of each class relative to others. Furthermore, this question becomes more complex as individual preferences and aptitudes play a role in a student’s performance subject by subject. Additionally, by doing this, it could encourage students to prioritize certain disciplines/classes based merely on their weighting.

“I do not think that we should value some APs higher than others,” wrote Braden Lipman (‘24). Instead, other measures have been proposed. Lipman wrote, “I think the number of AP classes should be used to determine who is higher in rank.”

Currently, at East, outside of variance within AP/H levels, the number of AP/H classes is also not represented in rank showing how the rigor of a student’s course load is, again, not necessarily considered for valedictorians. For example, two seniors – one taking two study halls, one AP class and 5 unweighted classes if they took core classes online and one taking a schedule with 8 AP classes – could both still maintain the coveted title of valedictorian. This ability raises additional questions about East’s system’s ability to effectively rank the achievement of students with vastly disparate course loads.

“If a person takes 2 APs and gets an A, they should not be the same rank as a person who takes 6 AP/ H and gets an A,” wrote a senior.

This sentiment resonates with the growing discontent regarding the system’s failure to account for the variation in academic rigor among students. With this system, students can take little amounts of APs or opt for the supposedly “easy” APs and maintain valedictorian. In essence, students can opt for less demanding coursework and secure a number 1 rank, reversing the mere thing “valedictorian” is meant to honor – an exceptional student succeeding in rigorous coursework.

Competitive Environment
Competitive Environment

When discussing East’s class rank and grading policy system, it’s crucial to consider the stress and competition between students. For example, the possibility for multiple valedictorians discouraged students from attempting to harm each other academically.

“If there can only be one [valedictorian], you are more likely to be cutthroat [and] less collaborative with other students,” said Yeh.

One senior currently on track to become valedictorian shared a similar view, writing that “the fact that so many students can tie for the same spot is nice because students aren’t fighting each other or comparing as much.”

However, on the contrary, the increase in the number of valedictorians in recent years has actually increased stress for many students. Currently, students in the class of 2024 with a GPA less than 7.00 will automatically receive a rank greater than or equal to 26/530. No matter the course intensity or specific numerical grade these students receive in their classes, they will be prevented from improving their rank past 26.

“The current system is so stressful because… a single A-level class or B in a class can drop a student an extreme amount in terms of class rank,” another senior wrote.

The fear of moving down such a large number of ranking spots could also help explain some of the unsavory and dishonest behavior perpetrated by high-ranking students. According to numerous members of the senior class, multiple students on track to become valedictorians deliberately shifted their schedules around at the beginning of the year to ensure they would have their preferred choice of teacher. These alleged instances of “teacher shopping” may be responsible for senior classes that are skewed wildly by class size and gender. Some students have allegedly gone even further to ensure that they retain their pathway to become valedictorian.

One student emphasized the dishonest environment within the current senior class, saying “the cheating in our grade is abhorrent… it’s actually insane how normalized it is.” When asked whether or not they had seen any valedictorians cheat or commit academic dishonesty at East, the same senior replied “Yes, period.”

Nearly half of the students in Class of 2024’s Cum Laude currently have a rank of 1/530, which creates what some view as an overly competitive standard for what East expects academically. So if a system with a limited number of valedictorians and a system that allows for over a dozen valedictorians both create stress for students, what steps can be taken to reduce student stress?

“One option would be just eradicating class rank in general,” said Yeh regarding the subject.

While the decision could seem controversial to many community members, the abolition of class rank has been growing in popularity throughout American high schools. That system would remove the excess competition caused by ranking at East and likely cause students to focus more on their own academic performance rather than the academic performances of people around them.

Critics of abolishing class rank would argue that the move could decrease student motivation or neglect to reward those who excel academically. However, these students could still be honored based on their GPAs rather than rank, or they could be honored within specific academic fields. In terms of motivation, many feel that the title of valedictorian is outdated as an effective way of motivating students.

When asked whether she thought removing the ranking system would negatively impact motivation, Kipnis said “I don’t think that’s anyone’s motivation.” Instead, Kipnis pointed toward colleges and familial expectations as more commonly cited motivators.


The sheer number of valedictorians in East’s Class of 2024 contributes to a system in which the perceived “honor” of the title diminishes with each additional valedictorian. East’s lack of mechanisms in place to prevent grade inflation has led to a steady rise in the number of valedictorians, particularly since COVID, as online classes, switching teachers, and flexible course loads allow students to “game” the system. These factors combined have led to drastic shifts in class standings over the past two decades – in fact, a student ranked #181 in the Class of 2024 would have been ranked just #38 in the Class of 2004.

Eastside ultimately finds an inverse relationship between the number of valedictorians and the validation brought on by the title. The most effective way to reduce this saturation of valedictorians is to address East’s flawed grading system. The current grading system encourages students to find loopholes, disproportionately benefiting students from privileged backgrounds who can afford online courses. As students find more and more workarounds to achieve the coveted 7.0 GPA and its accompanying “valedictorian” title, the legitimacy of the honor diminishes in the process.

As the 25 valedictorians gear up to crowd the podium at the Class of 2024 graduation, it’s critical that we change our GPA system before the validation of the title diminishes entirely.

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    Jenifer AtlasFeb 15, 2024 at 12:23 pm

    Thank you for providing such a though-provoking and honest article. Hopefully, exposing some of these flaws leads to a solution, but I don’t agree that it should be removing the class rank. Better ideas include changing the grading system or reevaluating the criteria for valedictorian.