art by Jasper Kipp
One or two honest mistakes can drop an A to a B. In the eyes of high-achieving students, the likelihood of recovering from a low test grade is next to none. Honestly, they aren’t completely wrong. In order to maintain high grades in honors and AP classes, each student has to avoid slip-ups. And, anyone who hopes to be valedictorian can’t slip-up at all for four consecutive years. A single B+ will drop a competitive student down dozens of class ranks and completely destroy their chances at ranking number one.
Understandably, changing the class ranking system is difficult. Yes, colleges love to see students with class rankings on their transcript, and yes, top class ranks greatly benefit the students who earn them, but these arguments are focused on the destination, not the journey. A student may be awarded valedictorian, but the costs are not worth the reward.
Schools shouldn’t place this incredible weight on the shoulders of the brightest teenage minds in the country. The schooling system is overwhelmingly focused on academic proficiency and superiority, overlooking the clear damaging effects the unneeded competition causes. According to AnxietyUK, one in six young people suffer from an anxiety condition. This means approximately one-sixth of KHS’s student population suffers from anxiety, much of it stemming from academic pressure, and the competitively-natured causes are being irrationally overlooked. Abby Peterson, college counselor, believes class ranking adds unnecessary stress to the life of a student and isn’t worth the competition of class rank.
Anxiety isn’t the only health factor at stake. According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the average teenager receives approximately seven hours of sleep per night instead of the recommended 9.25 hours. When students compete for the top class rankings, they inevitably place themselves in as many honors and AP classes as possible to achieve substantial boosts to their GPA. Additionally, top students often avoid interest-based elective courses because each A in a regular class lowers any GPA over 4.0.
When increased AP and honors work is added to the general scheme of high school, including extracurriculars, employment and personal time, most students are forced to stay up late, jeopardizing necessary sleep. In a less competitive environment, students would feel less pressured to take all honors and AP courses and could appropriately adapt their schedule to fit the complexity of their lifestyle. Students would then be able to value mental and physical health more than a grade in the grade-book.
However, according to solutions proposed by The Washington Post, change can occur without losing all the benefits of class rank. One solution to eliminate the competition of class rank is to award valedictorian to any student with a GPA of 4.0 or higher. Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va. has successfully implemented this system when they had 117 hardworking and intelligent valedictorian winners walking at graduation. All 117 students at Washington-Lee will benefit substantially from their top rank. A second solution is effectively practiced by North Hills High outside of Pittsburgh, Pa. North Hills High keeps all class ranks confidential to eliminate competition. The rank would only be released if a scholarship application required it. Dr. Michael Gavin, assistant principal, favors a third option. This alternative he said, if practiced, would rank students in tiers, similar to how colleges rank their students.
None of these solutions would be an unreasonable direction for KHS to take. Currently, according to Gavin, there isn’t any discussion amongst the administration on the topic of class rank. However, Gavin was supportive of trying new alternatives and believes the district would be open to the idea as long as the student body, parents and staff agreed. Peterson also supports changing the class rank system. She believes removing the current ranking system would offer benefits to students including better scholarship and admission opportunities. In the eyes of Peterson, KHS is already behind the trend. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, more than half of all high schools no longer report student rankings. Each of these schools determined traditional class ranking is harmful for most students. Seventy-three percent of TKC agrees.
If KHS moved away from class rank, students would be able to focus on enhancing their individual learning experience instead of focusing on solely raising their GPAs. Under these new conditions, colleges can focus on each student’s individual ability and hard work rather than a comparative number on a transcript. Students are worth more than a ranking. Without the number, students, in the eyes of colleges, peers and themselves, can be seen that way.