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Colorado school district to stop naming valedictorians in 2026

The superintendent said naming valedictorians goes against educational best practices by encouraging students to view learning as a competition.
Credit: Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado
Cherokee Trail High School graduation ceremony on Aug. 1, 2020, at Cherry Creek High School. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

AURORA, Colo — Beginning with the graduating class of 2026, the Cherry Creek School District will no longer be naming valedictorians, citing inconsistent qualifications between schools and a lack of benefit to students.

In a letter to families announcing the decision, Superintendent Chris Smith said that naming valedictorians goes against educational best practices by encouraging students to view learning as a competition between their peers.

“The role of the educator is to teach all of our students, not to rank and sort them,” Smith said. “The practices of class rank and Valedictorian status are outdated and inconsistent with what we know and believe of our students. We believe all students can learn at high levels, and learning is not a competition.”

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In evaluating the practice, Smith said the district found that there was inconsistency among schools in terms of how many valedictorians they named and the qualifications to receive the status.

The decision will align the district with many other high-achieving schools nationwide that have done away with the practice, Smith said, as well as do away with a source of additional pressure on students.

District spokesperson Abbe Smith said that five of the district’s eight high schools currently name valedictorians but that they all use different criteria. Cherry Creek High School, the district’s largest school, has not named valedictorians for at least 30 years.

Superintendent Smith said that the district reached out to local universities while making the decision, and cited a response from Todd Rinehart, the University of Denver’s vice chancellor for enrollment.

The university has never considered valedictorian status or class rank in college admissions, Rinehart said, noting that those are announced long after students have already gone through the college application process earlier in their senior year.

“We share the philosophy of Cherry Creek Schools – we aren’t trying to sort or rank students, but rather identify and select students who are motivated and curious learners and committed to their classroom success,” Rinehart said in the message.

The district will continue to acknowledge academic achievement through the use of GPA cords at graduation, the honor roll and department and school-specific awards, Smith said.

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