EDITORIAL: It's time to phase out 'antiquated' use of class rank in our high schools

York Dispatch
  • There's a recent trend to eliminate class rank in our high schools.
  • Class rank can lead to unhealthy competition and anxiety.
  • Fewer colleges are using class rank in their admissions decisions.
There's a growing trend in education to eliminate class rank in our high schools.
York Suburban School District Superintendent Dr. Timothy Williams.  John A. Pavoncello photo

The pursuit of academic excellence shouldn’t be a competitive exercise.

Rather, students should strive to excel in the classroom because education is its own reward.

That’s why we support a recent trend to eliminate class rank in our high schools.

This has become an issue locally because the York Suburban School District is mulling eliminating class rank. The board planned to vote on the proposal Monday, Dec. 16.

"I believe it is an antiquated process that doesn’t have relevance in today’s world," Superintendent Timothy Williams said.

We agree.

Following a trend, York Suburban might ditch class rank

Focus should be on collaboration, not competition: We’re not talking about football, basketball or some other athletic endeavor. In athletics, competition is at the very heart of the activity.

That is not the case in academics.

In fact, it can be strongly argued that ranking students in the classroom only promotes an unhealthy atmosphere of competition that can lead to envy, anxiety and even cheating, all in the pursuit of a higher grade-point average.

Instead, academic achievement should be a collaborative effort among the students, not a competition between students.

Eliminating class rank a growing trend: That’s why, over the past decade, more and more high schools are getting away from class rank, and why more and more colleges no longer consider class rank when determining admissions.

In fact, a 2019 National Association of School Admissions Counseling report showed about 9% of colleges nationally saw rank as having considerable importance over admissions cycles from 2016 to 2018, compared with 23% in 2007.

Of course, it’s just a trend. Many high schools still use an academic ranking system for their students and many colleges use it as part of their admissions criteria.

It’s a trend, however, that we hope will become a generally accepted norm.

Not all class rankings created equally: It’s obvious that not all class rankings are created equally.

For example, a student at a school with a rigorous academic curriculum may rank only 20th in his or her class. That same student, at a school with a less-rigorous curriculum, may rank fifth.

That can lead to students from quality schools being rejected by good colleges because of lower class rank, while a student from another school with lesser standards, gets admitted because of a better class rank.

That is inherently unfair.

One possible drawback: As we see it, eliminating class rank has only one drawback. It may hurt students from low-performing, high-poverty schools.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals, in a 2010 article that was revised in July, made just that claim.

"It appears that using class rank as one factor for admission to competitive colleges does increase diversity and results in a wider range of high schools sending students to those universities," the article states.

A decrease in diversity at our colleges should not be allowed to happen. It’s a crucial part of the college learning experience.

Eliminating high school class rank, however, does not necessarily have to lead to less college diversity.

It will be up to the colleges to revamp their admission standards to make some allowances for students coming from under-performing schools. That can be done using grade-point average, standardized testing and extracurricular activities, not class rank.

An arbitrary exercise: Finally, ranking students academically can be extremely arbitrary.

A good relationship between a student and a teacher could boost that student’s class rank. A bad relationship could have the opposite effect.

In addition, teachers can have varying academic standards, which can lead to very different grades for students of similar abilities taking similar courses.

It’s apparent that class rank is not always an effective tool for judging students’ academic abilities and predicting their academic success in college.

It’s time for class rank to join one-room school houses as part of education’s past, not its future.