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ISD 181: Don’t eliminate class ranking

Recently representatives of Brainerd High School (BHS) presented a proposal to Independent School District (ISD) 181 School Board members to eliminate class rank during the May 2 Curriculum Committee meeting. The question is, “Why is this being recommended and why should class rank be eliminated?”

According to supporting documents there are two main reasons:

1. “Some students were manipulating schedules to improve their class rank.”

2. “Out of care and concern for the emotional and social perspective that students not be pitted against each other.”

Reason No. 1: “Some students were manipulating schedules to improve their class rank.”

If class rank doesn’t matter and hence, would not be missed if it were eliminated, why are students working so hard to manipulate schedules to get a higher ranking? Has anyone considered and asked if it is the system that needs fixing versus eliminating a measurement of academic achievement such as class rank? Perhaps a solution is a one-page summary in the Student Handbook explaining how class rank is derived, how weighted GPA average is calculated, and what this means to college-bound students or students heading to work straight out of high school.

Another question worth asking is how many are some? Of the roughly 1,500 students in grades 10-12 how many are manipulating their schedules? What percent does some represent: 1 percent, .003 percent, 20 percent? Have the students who ARE motivated by class rank been surveyed to see how it may adversely impact them personally? If the school’s interest is truly the betterment of all students please take time to consider the implications for those who like and want a class rank.

Reason No. 2: “Out of care and concern for the emotional perspective that students not be pitted against each other.”

If the reason is “students should not be pitted against each other” how does this prepare our students for life? This occurs for job interviews, in sports, in business transactions, and in hundreds of other ways every day. Eliminating competition is not a solution. Creating an environment of healthy competition, where the result is everyone getting better because of the competition no matter who wins, is a historically effective method.

Has BHS instead considered educating staff on how to promote healthy competition? If this reasoning is used to eliminate class rank BHS should also eliminate all competition in sports, all academic measures of achievement such as grades, and all other measurements because these activities do pit students against one another. In life, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Providing students with the skills to work through their victories and losses is what the emphasis should be. Striving for improvement and encouraging peers to get the best out of each other using competition as the method ought to be lauded. This will be part of the student’s life experience just as it is for each of us who work outside the school setting.

Passing this recommendation based upon these two reasons and the research to support it doesn’t make sense. By voting against it no money is lost by waiting and the students who are about to have the carpet pulled out from underneath them will at least be given a chance to be considered in this process. If the recommendation has merit wouldn’t it make sense to at least direct staff to complete research that outlines the advantages and disadvantages of class rank? The current recommendation only outlines why it should be eliminated. It does not look into the merits of keeping class rank, the negative consequences of eliminating it, or alternatives such as an opt-in policy.

In the interest of objective research it’s worth looking at the 2013 US News and World Report Best High Schools in Minnesota Class Ranking.* BHS ranks No. 27 in the state and is in the top 6.5 percent nationally. Is the initial reaction one of ill will towards the 26 schools ahead of Brainerd or does it motivate schools that are not at the top to try to achieve higher academic performance? Those who are interested in being the best will find out how to make it to the top spot and then set a course to implement it.

Phone calls to the Top 10 Minnesota schools found that each school takes a slightly different approach to class rank. Three schools do not have class rank, four schools do have class rank, one has it but doesn’t promote it, and two schools have been phasing it out for the last three years giving the students the opportunity to “opt-in” for inclusion of class rank on their transcripts. There is no one right approach because each school has its own unique set of students and situations.

Reasons to keep class rank or at least track it according to those who have it include: 1. It gives students an advantage for scholarships and, 2. because some colleges want to see it on the student’s transcripts and it is important, and 3) because top students in the school are watching it closely.

According to recent research of colleges and their admission criteria, at least 500 ask for class rank on their application. This includes nine of the top 10 U.S. colleges: Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Columbia University, University of Chicago, Stanford University, Duke University, University of Pennsylvania, California Institute of Technology. Other schools such as West Point, Air Force Academy, Concordia College (Moorhead), Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Scholastica, and University of Iowa ask for class rank too. It can also be a factor in garnering scholarships. Why would ISD 181 want to take away one more point of differentiation available to BHS students when they are trying to get into the college of their choice? How does that help students pursue their goals?

Looking at top performing high schools and colleges it is quite clear that not only are colleges interested in class rank, there is no discernible advantage to a high school eliminating it. Unless we reach the point where college admissions and scholarship decisions are made completely independent of class rank and studies show that class rank is not a motivator for students then abandoning this tradition doesn’t make sense.

Brent and Jenny Gunsbury are graduates of Brainerd High School and parents of children enrolled in the ISD 181 school district.

*Complete results can be found at: