Eliminating class rank the smart thing to do

This time of year, I always get nostalgic when the Observer-Reporter{/em} publishes graduation announcements from our local high schools. A mainstay of those stories is always an insert with a picture of the fine young men and women who are graduating as valedictorians, salutatorians and honor graduates. These pictures and the accompanying stories of their families and their future plans serve to uplift all of us and allow us to celebrate the successes of our public schools.

A recent trend in education will cause these stories to transform themselves in order to keep up with the times. For those who don’t know (most don’t), the current trend in secondary education is to eliminate class rank for graduating seniors. Two years ago, Canon-McMillan joined the likes of Upper St. Clair and Mount Lebanon in eliminating class rank. Thus, next year will be the last year that the district will be naming a valedictorian and salutatorian.

The reasons for eliminating class rank are varied. Class rank has diminished in importance in college admissions nationwide for a variety of reasons. College admissions currently stress grades in college preparatory courses, strength of course schedule and admission test scores like the ACT and the SAT more than class rank.

However, from an educational standpoint, the most important aspect of eliminating class rank is that students will not feel compelled to take classes and arrange their schedules for the sole purpose of chasing class rank. In an age when course offerings have radically expanded from what they were just a generation ago, students should be selecting courses based on their educational and future needs and their own interests. Chasing grade point averages should not be the end goal of any student.

Some will no doubt object to this trend on the basis that class rank is needed for admission into our more elite institutions of higher learning. I would submit that those institutions are more than capable of analyzing any student’s application without the inclusion of class rank. If class rank was as important to these institutions, then our elite public schools would not be eliminating it.

Class rank plays into the common myth that education is a single mountain, and that we should drive every student to the same summit. Rather, we should be providing them with a range, asking them to pick their own mountain, and then teaching them how to climb.

Joseph M. Zupancic