Should Sleepy Hollow Get Rid of Class Rank?

Class rank is currently a prevalent part of life for many students near the top of their class at Sleepy. Students’ weighted grade point averages–GPAs–automatically place them at a certain academic spot among their peers. Though awarding a valedictorian and salutatorian is a tradition at our school, the race to that status has caused unhealthy levels of stress and competition among our student body. Many high schools across America have begun to replace this system with alternatives, and phasing it out at Sleepy could have some interesting results.

Providing students with their class rank throughout the course of high school does have its benefits. Class rank rewards students who make sacrifices for their grades, and highlights some of Sleepy Hollow’s best and brightest. The competition pushes some students to work harder, and it discourages top students from settling for an 85 when they could put forth more effort and get a 95. Class rank also provides an incentive for students to take weighted honors and AP classes, and high-ranking students applying to elite colleges can use their rank as a résumé booster. Plus, if you’re one of the lucky kids who manages to secure the first or second spot in your class, you’re rewarded with the opportunity to speak at graduation. Speaking in favor of class rank, one senior commented, “I think that rank gives people recognition for their academic work. It’s sometimes seen as a motivational tool for academic improvement. As long as it isn’t too toxic, we should keep it.”

However, the adverse effects of class rank may outweigh the positives. The clearest impact is on students’ levels of stress. Among the top students in most graduating classes, GPAs differ by fractions of a point; as a result, every academic decision a student makes can impact their rank, and the competition can become cutthroat. Instead of taking interesting electives, some students will overload their schedules with difficult AP classes that they don’t actually care about just to stay in the competition. This results in unhealthy levels of academic stress, and can prevent students from pursuing classes they are passionate about. “I know in past years the top five people were separated by decimal points, which is really frustrating and not truly representative of who is the most hardworking or smart,” explained another senior.

The constant presence of class rank can also cause students to disproportionately associate their grades with their self-worth. One junior put it like this: “Rank can make you feel like the dumb one in a group. It’s never fun when people ask what rank you are and you’re, like, 50th. It hurts your self-esteem and self-confidence.” Although grades are important, and students should be encouraged to do as well as they are capable of, having a lower class rank can make a student feel inadequate or insecure.

If this system were to be abolished at Sleepy, it would not have any positive or negative impact on college admissions; the absence of rank on a student’s transcript would merely encourage admissions officers to look a little more closely at other academic data points. Fewer high schools report ranking information every year: for example, in 2015, Tufts University only received rank information from 20% of applicants; of students accepted to the class of 2018 at Dartmouth College, only a third of students came from schools that provided rank; and only 44% of members Swarthmore College’s class of 2019 provided rank. If class rank only makes students more stressed and has little to no bearing on a student’s college admission prospects, what is its purpose?

There are many possible alternatives to the traditional ranking system we use at Sleepy. At Port Chester High School, students are not informed of their rank until the end of senior year, at which point the valedictorian and salutatorian are selected. Alternatively, Long Beach Polytechnic High in California designates all straight-A students as valedictorians and gives them special robes to wear at graduation. It’s important to honor students who have done well, and these two methods do just that without creating the same unhealthily stressful and competitive atmosphere created by traditional class rank. Though some students may argue that rank should not be changed or abolished entirely, there is no denying that the system is on the decline nationwide. Rank will likely be a part of the Sleepy Hollow experience for the time being, but as the number of schools who don’t measure rank increases, the pressure will be on for our school to make a change.

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