Class ranks in District 155, as well as district valedictorians and salutatorians, may soon go the way of the Beta videotape.
Elimination of the class ranking system is being considered for the district’s four high schools: Crystal Lake Central, Crystal Lake South, Cary-Grove and Prairie Ridge.
District officials note that a number of high-performing high school districts have already gotten rid of their ranking system. They note Barrington, Glenbrook, Highland Park/Deerfield, New Trier and Maine Township have all gone away from rankings. They said the practice of using rank as an indicator of student success has been in decline for two decades.class-rank-art
A report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling stated that only 19 percent of colleges believe class rank has considerable importance in determining admission. That is down from 42 percent a decade earlier.
District 155 leaders say the change is motivated by the desire to give students a more meaningful high school experience while also providing them an opportunity to attend the college of their choice. They say class rank can negatively represent students in high-performing schools when compared to less successful high schools.
According to district leaders, a student in one of the four District 155 high schools may be outside the top 10 percent in class rank, but scores a 28 on the ACT, while an applicant from a lower performing school may be in the top 5 percent in class rank with an ACT score of 25. They contend in that scenario, the District 155 student would be unfairly disadvantaged in the admission process.
Students also needlessly get stressed out over their ranking, district leaders said. The “GPA game,” as district counselors refer to it, where students compete against each other for grades, takes a toll on students. To keep up with peers in the grade-point battle, students may take additional Advanced Placement classes, overextending themselves. This can negatively impact their social-emotional well-being, counselors said.
They said students should be working toward intense cooperation, not intense competition.
“We have had little, if any, negative feedback since we made the change,” said Steve McWilliams, Barrington High School principal. “The absence of class rank made it more likely that the students would work together.”
A representative of Ripon College noted that “rank adds unnecessary pressure to try and be better than their peers instead of bettering themselves.”
“Half our applicants now come from schools that don’t have rank,” said Jim Miller, director of admissions at Brown University.
“This year, 20,376 of the 32,772 freshmen applicants had no class rank (62 percent). Further, 69 percent of admitted students did not report rank,” said Mike Mills of Northwestern University
“The majority of schools that I read for do not rank, so they are certainly not penalized. Rank does not directly affect scholarships,” according to Kevin Crimmons of Washington University.
District counselors contend that too often, they hear from students, “That’s what I want to major in when I go to college, but I can’t afford to take it right now because it isn’t weighted and will hurt my GPA.”
Students also may bypass a challenging course because it may damage their GPA, according to counselors.
If District 155 moves forward with the elimination of class ranks, the change would start with the next freshman class, the Class of 2019.
District administrators contend that schools that have eliminated class rank have seen an increase in student collaboration. They said without the need to enroll in the highest grade-weighted courses to boost their ranking, students are free to pursue classes more in line with their aspirations and career goals.
The idea to eliminate the ranking system in the district came from a Crystal Lake Central teacher and has been researched and supported by the school leadership teams, division leaders and district personnel.
The proposal would need approval from the district’s Board of Education before being implemented.
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