Across the nation, high schools have begun to do away with class rank, calling it too comparative and stress inducing and replacing it with a “Top five percent” distinction that still honors the school’s highest academic performers.
Even in schools that do still recognize and rank students by their GPA aren’t so keen on announcing class rank. AT, for example, puts class rank on transcripts and alerts high ranking students of their status, but does not award a valedictorian or salutatorian at graduation.
While the idea of recognizing a top five percent sounds nice in theory, there is definitely a loss of benefits that comes with eliminating class rank.
Class rank encourages a healthy level of competition and drives motivated kids to work towards their full potential. The top five percent at many public high schools can encompass a huge number of kids; AT, a mid-sized school, would include 26 students in this top five percent group. A student who is clearly succeeding may feel motivated to be a part of this group, but another bright student who feels they have already clinched a spot in this group may choose to work a little less, knowing that they have secured themselves a spot and have no way to move up.
With class rank, however, students are motivated to improve their rank when they’re at the top. A student who is 12th, for example, might be motivated to challenge themselves and work harder so that they move into the top ten. Students who are in the top five will likely have a healthy, subtle competition going on to claim the top spots. Students just outside the top 20 might try and aim to get there.
But isn’t this competition stressful?
We have never found ourselves stressed out about something like our rank.
People will argue that the prospect of being a top dog creates a competition that forces kids to push themselves too hard, but it’s not even a competition that everyone is forced to compete in. The students who care most are likely already at the top of their class and have proven that they can handle a workload and schedule that would warrant a high rank.
Implementing a top five percent would only eliminate this competition from the kids who can handle it best and flourish through it most. The idea of winning is often what drives smart students to put their potential into action where they otherwise might scale back because they feel there is no point.
Taking away class rank also discredits ALL top students. People often think that the push to keep class rank is a cry from valedictorians and salutatorians who don’t want to lose their fancy title, but we think that it discredits everyone who has put in a ton of work to obtain a high rank.
Of course, the top 10 students lose the ability to flex something that is deserved and took an inexplicable amount of work, but it doesn’t stop there. Let’s use AT as an example. We mentioned that five percent of this year’s senior class is about 26 students – 25.65 to be exact – but what about the student who ranks twenty-seventh?
To be 27 out of 513 is an incredible accomplishment. Not only did this student likely earn lots of As and Bs, but also likely took a boatload of honors and AP courses and did this amidst a lot of involvement and a busy schedule. However, this student has the same distinction as students ranked near the bottom or middle who may not have tried as hard.
This student lacks the same distinction as the 26th student, whose transcript might appear identical.
You can argue that they can just add a top 10 percent to counter this, but the effect just carries down.
It seems much less fair to us to say that 27 is the same as 513 than what rank critics argue is unfair, which is to say that 10 is less than nine.
The problem doesn’t go away by eliminating rank altogether either. That says that one equals 513.
This doesn’t even mention the fact that colleges and scholarships ask for rank and it can help a lot of students who deserve positive recognition for their number.
We just don’t think that this modern push against rank because of its potential to stress out students is all that valid or warranted. We believe that the system in place is better than proposed alternatives and individually recognized hard working students.