graphic by Marissa Arnold
At the end of every year, the class rank of the senior class is tallied up, assigning students numbers and honoring the valedictorian. But is it possible that this system is outdated and even harmful?
When students receive report cards, they can check their grades, GPA and class rank.
It seems odd that class rank is placed alongside GPA and grades, objective and unchanging methods of analyzing success. While the same grades in the same courses will always create the same GPA, class rank fluctuates based on the class.
Plus, class rank is not as important to college decisions as it used to be. According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, the relative importance of rank in admissions decisions decreased by over 50% from 1995 to 2013.
Additionally, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) indicated that up to half of schools do not report class rank. Even within this area, Cocalico High School recently removed class ranking for the Class of 2023 and beyond.
Instead, it will institute a decile ranking system placing students into a 10th percentile (top 10 percent, top 20 percent, etc.). Instead of honoring only the valedictorian and salutatorian at graduation, it will honor the top three percent of students.
Even here, this type of system is being considered as a replacement for class rank.
Shifting away from a system honoring only the two students with the highest GPAs will reduce stress and extreme competition among top students.
The margins between high-ranking students are often razor thin. The Baltimore Sun reported on an instance when the valedictorian of Severna Park High School changed at the last minute due to a .01 difference in GPA.
When students are concerned about losing or advancing their ranking, they may opt to take the courses they think will push them ahead rather than the ones that are actually best for them.
Plus, the class ranking system is fundamentally one where some students must fail for others to succeed. No matter how hard a school works to improve education for all of its students, there will always be students at the bottom of the ladder.
This does not mean that these students have failed, however. If they have high enough GPAs, they should not be hindered in their pursuits by arbitrary rankings.
One argument against removing class rank is that it gives students no reason to strive for the top as valedictorians are not recognized.
However, the existing Senior of the Year award does just this - It recognizes the top student based on academics, community and school involvement, character and more.
The drive to attain this honor is more beneficial for students because it encourages them to achieve in areas other than academics.
Another point frequently used to defend the class ranking system is that it shows colleges how applicants compare to peers. Schools with less strict grading may have higher average GPAs than ones with more rigorous courses.
However, comparing students to their peers does not necessarily show how they compare to most students. Different schools have different students and some are far more competitive academically than others.
One potential alternative to class rank suggested by NASSP is school reporting of the grade distribution of the class. This includes the median and range, allowing a college to get a sense of what is typical at a school without using class rank.
While class rank has been a staple of schooling for generations, it is becoming less necessary and common. As the times change, it is important for the school to also change and shift to a more beneficial alternative.