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How a West Michigan school phased out the valedictorian honor

The first shift happened in 2000, when Orchard View High School started recognizing the top 10 students.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Orchard View High School hasn't had a valedictorian or salutatorian in 10 years. 

An Ohio school's decision to phase out the two titles due to the academic pressure put on students has generated a national discussion on the academic pressure faced by high school students. A discussion that some West Michigan high schools began having years ago. 

Orchard View High School Principal Dan Bolhuis said they got the idea to get rid of the two academic honors from Spring Lake.

"We wanted our top students to be truly representative of our top students," Bolhuis said Monday. "We found that some kids were taking easier classes and padding their grade point averages."

In 2000, the school shifted to recognizing the top 10 students, but eight years later, they got rid of that list. 

"We decided that we wanted to encourage kids to do better on the ACT or SAT," Bolhuis said. 

They created the 'Senior Scholars' group. A point system based on a students grade point average (GPA) and their ACT/SAT score. There can be any number of students who qualify each school year. 

"Some years there may be 20 Senior Scholars other years there may be eight or nine," Bolhuis said. 

This method, Bolhuis says, also allows students more freedom to take more challenging classes without being as concerned about their GPA.

"We didn't want our top kids having to go across to Muskegon Community College to take remedial classes. We wanted to encourage our kids to take our higher level classes, so that they would do better in college," Bolhuis explained. 

He said students with GPAs as low as 3.0 have still made it into the scholar group due to high ACT/SAT scores. As far as the competitive academic pressure, Bolhuis says there's been less of it since the change. 

"It's still based on a point system; you can say that this was the top person. But that's not what it is about. It's about being recognized as a Senior Scholar."

Seniors can also get up to two days off school, if they log a certain amount of hours doing online SAT/ACT prep. 

► Emma Nicolas is a multimedia journalist. Have a news tip or question for Emma? Get in touch by email, Facebook or Twitter.

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