Class Ranking Does Not Need to Be Eliminated

Saahithi Gaddipati

If you have been a high school student in the last two decades, you are most likely familiar with class rankings. This practice compares students against the rest of their graduating class, using GPA as a metric to rank students. Oftentimes, weighted GPA is used to determine class rank, as it provides a larger variance in GPA compared to the regular 4.0 scale that unweighted GPA uses. In essence, weighted GPA is when AP classes are calculated out of five points rather than four, in turn boosting GPA. This encourages students to take harder classes and succeed in them.  

However, high schools in Washington state do not weight GPA, meaning that the maximum a student can earn is a 4.0. This has implications for the purpose of class rankings, as the incentive of an AP class leading to a higher class rank is now gone. This loss leads to students pushing themselves to take easier classes and keep their grades up rather than challenging themselves. This, among other factors, led to the Issaquah School District terminating the implementation of class rank within their district.  

Although it is a popular opinion that the lack of class rankings benefits students, I believe they do have merit. One of the situations where class rank is most beneficial is with universities that provide direct admission based on ranking. For example, Washington State University states that “U.S. high school students who are ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school class or have a cumulative GPA of 3.60 or better (on a 4.0 scale) are assured admission to Washington State University.” Class ranking is a metric that certain colleges use to guarantee admission to high-performing students in context of their environment. It is important to note that aside from the top 10 percent, WSU also states that a cumulative GPA of 3.60 or above will guarantee admission, allowing students from non-ranking schools to be included as well. However, evaluating class ranking allows for more inclusive policies, as schools in rural or low-income areas may not have the same resources as a larger, wealthier school. The implementation of class ranking within schools allows for students to be evaluated in the context of their environment. It is unfair to students to compare them based solely on a metric that is subject to different policies in every classroom; one school could grade inflation, while another school is recognized for its harsh grading. Until class and grading policies become standardized, class rank is an important factor in ensuring that GPA is seen within the context of the school. 

Of course, the stress level of students is a consideration. Class rankings promote competition and seeing that one has a lower rank than expected can lead to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity regarding college applications. This is unavoidable; however, the IHS website notes that “the National Association for College Admission Counseling placed rank as eighth in factors for admission decisions, below grades in college-prep courses, strength of curriculum, SAT/ACT scores, grades in courses, essays, student’s demonstrated interests, and counselor recommendation.” This means that with the right counseling, students can rest assured that their class ranking will not undermine their GPA but will instead contextualize their application as a whole.

Ultimately, class rank is not an end all be all, with measures being taken to provide equal opportunity to students whose schools do not rank. However, additional contextualization that it provides is heavily beneficial. It is less efficient for students to be judged against every other school in the district, as different schools have different resources and levels of rigor. Comparing oneself against high schools that may or may not have similar policies is unfair and paints an incomplete narrative; it portrays a false image of how hard a student has really worked.