Op-Ed: Should Schools Rank Students?

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Recently, there has been widespread debate over whether or not high schools should rank their students by GPA. In my opinion, this practice is highly outdated and unproductive in the modern American school.

I am lucky to go to school here, where students can earn honor or high honor roll, but are not numerically ranked based on their academic performance. According to the New York Times, nearly 40 percent of public and private high schools have abolished class rank or stopped providing the statistic to colleges.

Although some college admissions officers dislike the anti-rank trend, high schools must put their students’ interests first when deciding whether or not to eliminate class rank.

First and foremost, a ranking is not always an accurate representation of academic achievement. Alfie Kohn, a noted educational philosopher, argues:

“What is rewarded by singling out those with the best grades isn’t always merit or effort but some combination of skill at playing the game of school (choosing courses with a keen eye to the effect on one’s GPA, figuring out how to impress teachers, etc.) and a willingness to sacrifice sleep, health, friends, reading for pleasure, and anything else that might interfere with one’s grades.”

Kohn makes some excellent points. Students who are motivated by the prospect of being the best in their class tend to take fewer risks, settling for the “easy” classes or teachers. They repeatedly choose to stifle their creativity out of fear of lowering their precious 4.0. Valedictorians are just as much strategic planners as they are hard workers.

Furthermore, grade-point averages often do not showcase one’s intelligence or potential. Students who struggle in one subject may be especially adept at another or possess talents outside of the classroom.

Ranking also encourages perfectionism, which can be debilitating. Child development researcher Katie Rasmussen has found that “as many as two in five kids and adolescents are perfectionists,” with the number rising dramatically in the past decade. BBC News further reports that “perfectionistic tendencies predict issues like depression, anxiety and stress.” The additional pressure of a class rank pushes some kids over the edge.

Many high-achieving students choose to stay up past midnight to study for a test instead of getting the vital rest that their body needs. Their every waking minute is consumed by homework. By handing out a high class rank, schools are essentially rewarding students for compromising their physical and mental well-being to the point of burnout.

Even more distressing is the cutthroat competition that class ranking fosters. There can only be one valedictorian, and in order to achieve this title, many students refrain from collaborating with and assisting their peers. When success is contingent upon another student’s failure, schools can become toxic learning environments.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that there is something morally wrong with assigning a number to a student. By labeling kids as inherently better or worse than their peers, schools affirm the idea that there are winners and losers in life. This system can lead students to believe that their self-worth is rooted in their GPA.

Grade-point averages often do not showcase one’s intelligence or potential. Students who struggle in one subject may be especially adept at another or possess talents outside of the classroom.

As for those who argue in favor of class rank, Kohn contends that this belief is “rooted in an ideological commitment to conditionality (the belief that anything desirable must be earned; no free lunch!), scarcity (viewing excellence as something that, by definition, can be attained only by a few), and deprivation (a conviction that children ought to have to struggle).”

The motivation for abolishing class rank is certainly morally superior. High schools must recognize that a student’s value cannot be determined by their grades. If administrators truly care about their students’ emotional and physical well-being, they must eradicate the antiquated practice of class rank.

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