OPINION: Class Ranks Hold No Purpose

Op-ed

Class ranks, simplistically meaning giving each student in a class a ranking that represents their academic performance, have been on the topic of school systems' debate since it was created. When deciding admissions, many colleges prefer looking at students' ranking to have an understanding of a student's level compared to other students in the class, and therefore admitting only the favorable top percentages. While class ranks used to be one of the most important factors for college admission officers to evaluate a student, nowadays it is no longer the case. 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. With statistics demonstrating the change, it can be argued that today, class rank holds no purpose and should not be considered to determine a student.

1. Different schooling systems should not be compared together.

Different high schools, or different public school systems and private school institutions, have completely unique standards for their students. A student that is ranked in the top 10% in a top high school may have the same academic performance as a student ranked in the top 1% of another school, yet if only looking at the ranking, colleges could assume that the latter would be accepted while the other would not. This means that students who have worked hard to be in a competitive high school may even end up having more disadvantages during the college application process.

Furthermore, different schools also adapt to individual class choice systems. For example, a public school allows all high school students to choose their preferred difficulties of classes, ranging from AP level to regular, and the students who choose higher-level courses would automatically have a higher ranking in the class. On the other hand, a private school may have stricter class schedules arranged for students, and ranking would be completely based on grades. Therefore, ranking can only be compared within a school, but not on a broader level, and should not determine a student.

2. Class rank promotes anxiety and competition.

In a school without class ranks, students' worries usually center around their individual performances. However, with class ranks, every student is granted a label that defines their status in the school. Students would automatically think about the changes in rank whenever there are any tests or academic performances, and all other students are no longer peers and friends, but competitors and "opponents". Students, therefore, live in an unnecessarily stressful learning environment and stay aware of other students' status, which destroys many opportunities for them to exchange ideas.

Max may be a talented soccer player, or he may be an excellent orator and succeed in debate, or he may be specifically interested in computer science but struggling a bit in other subjects... His potential could be discovered further and be recognized, yet admission officers would see that Max is ranked 300 out of 500 students in his class, and they shake their heads. He becomes anxious about how to improve his grades and grows stressed when he knows that his best friend is one hundred places higher than him in school. Gradually, he forcibly puts more time into studying, spends less time playing soccer, chooses not to sign up for the upcoming debate competitions, or uses the time he used to spend coding to go to tutor sessions... Not everyone may be Max, yet many people can be Max under a class rank system.

3. Class rank shifts the learning purpose

Students' goals are not to compare with one another or fight for a higher rank, but rather to learn the most out of the school's environment and improve themselves along the way. As long as one student has shown significant improvements or benign changes, he/she should be considered a good student. When students are rated with letter or number grades, research shows they’re apt to think in a shallower fashion — and to lose interest in what they’re learning — as compared with students who aren’t graded at all (Washington Post). Each student's unique interest must not be covered by simple letters and grades.

Class ranks can promote a more superficial approach to learning and diminish students’ engagement with it. Research by educational psychologists also suggests that it leads students to prefer less-challenging tasks. In order to achieve the desired grade or ranking, students may prefer the "easier work" instead of the "more interesting work". This distorts the whole purpose of sending children to school: while in the past students studied for knowledge and their interests, now they study for grades and ranking that were ironically designed to be an evaluation of their knowledge and interests.

For three major reasons, it should be clear to schools that the harms that class ranking may have on students' social life, future, and mental health outweigh its benefits. While many argue that class ranking should be kept because first, it is the most effective way to recognize smart and hard-working students; and second, it quickly communicates with parents about children's current performance levels in schools. However, it must be understood that college admission is not simply about the GPA - many other aspects, such as leadership, community contribution, and personal qualities, are also determinants. Furthermore, the ranking does not communicate with parents about their children's performance, children's mentality, and teachers' or counselors' reports of the children. If one parent really wants to know about his/her children's academic level, grade reports are always open. Class ranking would only be used as a tool to compare with other students, promoting anxiety and competition.

Emma Hu
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Emma Hu is a junior in McLean High School, Virginia. She immigrated from Shanghai, China at the age of 12 to the United States. She is an enthusiast in social studies, law, art and photography, and also an advocator for Asian rights. Emma also enjoys traveling, vlogging, and playing video games.