Eliminate Class Rank?

Class rank, the process of sorting everyone in a high school class in the order of grade point average, may have outlived its usefulness.

Certainly it’s never been all that effective at actually motivating students. While it often produces a lot of pressure at the top end, because valedictorian is a significant prize that in many states can mean free college, it’s sort of a useless indicator down at the lower end. No one cares whether you were 64th or 68th in a class of 450.

But many high schools are just not bothering to rank at all. According to this piece by Kate Schimel over at Education Dive:

Districts across the country have started to seek out other ways to signal that students are top performers, without resorting to often arbitrary ranking systems where top students were sometimes separated by less than 0.01 of a GPA. Instead, districts have begun to give all students who reach a certain level the title of valedictorian or summa cum laude, like colleges do.

The move also coincides with a trend towards using grading to denote what skills students have mastered rather than as a way to sort and rank them.


Exaclty how many schools are doing this is unclear. At this point the standard is still to maintain the existing class ranking, because that’s relatively easy to do.

But certainly it does seem to be losing any meaning, particularly at reasonably affluent suburban schools. The weighted input of Advanced Placement courses, for example, means that at many schools there is more than one student with a GPA higher than a 4.0. This year one high school in Arlington, Virginia, Washington-Lee High School, had 117 valedictorians (in a class of 457).

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer