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Principal: Class rankings create 'unnatural' competition

Posted May 21, 2009

— When Meg Barrow applied to Harvard University, she told them her GPA – a 4.0 – but there was one piece of information she couldn’t give them – her class ranking.

Raleigh Charter High School, where Barrows is a senior, has joined a growing number of schools that have stopped tracking class rankings.

“We feel like it creates an unnecessary and unnatural competition between and among students,” said Principal Thomas Humble. “We want the competition to be within the individual student.”

Meg Barrow Principal: Rank creates 'unnatural' competition

More than half of all high schools no longer report student rankings, according to a survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which represents high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers.

Christoph Guttentag, with Duke University’s admissions office, said about half of the 24,000 applications the university has received this year did not include a class rank.

“These small differences in a grade here and a grade there aren’t really that important when it comes to understanding how good a student is,” Guttentag said.

Some admissions officers say that, in a class of 500, it doesn’t matter whether a students is fifth or 15th.

At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one-third of this year's applicants did not report a class rank, according to UNC officials. While UNC and Duke said they prefer to know a student's class rank, they see it as only part of the story.

Guttentag said, if given the choice between two students – one with a rank 10 places higher and the other who is more involved in extracurricular activities and who participates in class – he’d pick the student with the lower grades.

“I have no qualms about taking the student whose grades are a little lower,” he said.

North Carolina requires public schools to put class rank on transcripts. Raleigh Charter High School bypasses that by blacking out that part of the document. The North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham is exempt from the law and does not track rankings.


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  • Professor May 22, 2009

    Whats unnatural?

  • sunneyone May 22, 2009

    I agree with kittiboo. Those kids are already working hard and competing, this isn't about the cream rising to the top, these kids ARE the cream of the crop. They'd all be Valedictorians and Salutatorians out in public school. But they're in a Charter school. In that kind of environment, there's already so much competition, there's no need to rank. I think the example from the episode of Malcolm in the Middle is a good example of WHY there is no need for rank.

    When I was in high school, I had all As and Bs and was in AP/excellerated classes. This was before AP classes were weighted, so there were people ranked higher than me who were taking the academic equivalent of tiddliwinks, making As and ranking higher than me, while I was busting my tail in AP Physics and Calculus. The ranking system is outdated and I applaude this school.

  • kittiboo May 22, 2009

    Has anyone pointed out that RCHS is a CHARTER school, meaning people have to APPLY to go there? Hence, only parents/students that give a darn about education are going to be applying, hence academic success rates/SAT participation/score are going to be higher.

  • pleshy May 22, 2009

    CONT. As I know several professionals (with various types and levels of education - Dr., lawyers, professors, teachers, etc.), most (though not all) say similar things. They didn't really learn anything in school (prior to graduate school) they couldn't teach themselves (or already know in a lot of cases). That's why the biggest, most well lit, most comfortably furnished room in my home is not the "TV" room, but the library. I know that my kid will be able to learn, on his own, more than what any school will want or be able to teach him. You want your kid to be an academic success, take him to the library and let him read anything he wants.

  • pleshy May 22, 2009

    Ken - No, my dispute is with worthless public education. Except for a very few exceptional teachers, my public education was useless. One useful teacher taught English, including, but not limited to, conjugation and sentence structure. She was what you would call "old-school". I had one math teacher who taught me multiplication, division and fractions. Other than those two teachers, I either: 1) knew everything a teacher attempted to "teach" before I attended the class by reading a book on the subject; or, 2) was able to absorb enough solely by attending class to make an A. Elementary School was a joke. Middle school was not much better (see, e.g. those two teachers above). High School was garbage. I taught myself algebra, geometry and biology. I already knew enough history/civics/English/algebra (HS physics is basically algebra with defined terms) to make an A in everything else. College was just advanced HS. Grad school is the first place I really "learned" anything new.

  • discowhale May 22, 2009

    Oh yeah, lets quit ranking students going to college, because college and the working world are so fair and non-competitive.

    This situation shows us once again, the difference in EDUCATION, and SMARTS.

  • TechRescue May 22, 2009

    Wealth is not a prereq for Raleigh Charter. Sure, there are some BMWs in the parking lot, but there's also a lot of clunkers. The line I wait in has everything from lawn care trucks on up. You get in via a lottery, no credit check, no bribes, no extortion.

    What RCHS does have is a wonderful diversity of students from all religons, cultures, and backgrounds, who want to be there and want to learn. Their parents undoubtedly pushed them hard, long before high school. If that tendency also tends to aid success, then I assume most RCHS parents are "successful".

    This is a tempest in a teapot. If our or your children fail in life, it's not going to be because they were or were not ranked in their class - for most of us it will be because we didn't do a good job of teaching things like courage and honesty and determination. The best any school can do is build on those traits, but the finest carpenter in the world can't build a decent house if there's no foundation.

  • Ken D. May 22, 2009

    "Well, since I don't believe you learn anything worth knowing in public elementary, middle or high school except basic reading and math skills anyway"

    So I take it your problem isn't with class ranking, it's with education. That may be OK for those who want to be lawyers, but I would prefer that doctors, scientists, military leaders and most other professions be staffed with people who put in the hard work and learned the discipline that comes with academic rigor.

  • ambidextrous cat May 22, 2009

    If I ever have children they will go to a school like RCHS, instead of the horror in which I endured. Obviously the success of RCHS cannot be attributed to elimination of class rank alone. The students that attend the school are generally wealthier than the student body of much larger public schools. Wealthier students (generally)do better in school? We already knew that! It's not good to compare a homogenous body (white and middle to upper middle class) to a diverse group. The success of RCHS is due to many things. There are other charter schools without class rank that are probably failing students left and right. It's good to try to look at things logically, not just from one biased point of view! Competition is good, and it's part of life. No matter what some students will continue to fail. We can make slight adjustments to help those born into a disadvantaged life however, we can't hold their hand the whole way.

  • toffton May 22, 2009

    Class rank just encourages people to take easier classes for the sake of keeping their GPA's higher. Yes AP classes tend to count for a little more, but they are pretty much useless once you get to college (very few schools give you credit, at State a perfect AP English score just sends you into a harder class, doesn't exempt you...)