Education

School might stop senior rankings. Should graduating first in class matter?

Henry Clay High School in Lexington.
Henry Clay High School in Lexington. File photo

Whether a high school student graduates first in the class or at a lower rank is not as much of a factor these days nationwide for some college admissions and scholarships.

But parent Chris Gilligan said some colleges do ask students for that ranking, and he wants Henry Clay High School’s decision-making council to take more time before eliminating the practice of ranking students in a graduating class.

The panel is considering eliminating rankings beginning with the class of 2021. Those students are now in eighth grade. Henry Clay’s school council has given the policy a first reading — tentative approval — and is set to take a final vote in February.

Class ranking is a summary of a student’s academic record compared to those of other students in the class. It takes into account the difficulty of the course and the grade the student earns, according to the website Collegeboard.org. Class rank was once a major component in admission decisions, the website said. But more than half of all high schools no longer report student rankings because officials fear that it can penalize an excellent student. Many large state universities, however, continue to require applicants to report class rank, as do many scholarship programs, the website said.

Gilligan said he doesn’t think families are being allowed a significant enough role in the decision by the Henry Clay council and says council members should conduct more research. The Henry Clay council is composed of parents, teachers, administrators and a non-voting student who make major decisions for the school.

“Eliminating class rank could be the greatest invention since sliced bread, or it could be the worst idea since ‘New Coke,’” Gilligan said. “Families may not care. It might not be a big change, but they have the right to be notified and the right to be heard.”

Henry Clay principal Paul Little said he and other council members have been open about the proposal and about why they think class ranking should no longer be used.

“We just feel like it’s outdated,” Little said. “Numerous times I’ve had kids stressing over the class rank. We’re trying to do what we think is best for kids. We’ve got a young man who’s got a 4.0; he’s 79th in his class.”

Little said class rank doesn’t represent the whole student. He said school council members have talked to some college officials who say that having a class ranking isn’t essential for admission.

At the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University, for example, officials told the Herald-Leader that their student applications don’t ask about class rankings.

Paul Laurence Dunbar High School has decided not to use class rankings, principal Betsy Rains said. Other high schools in Lexington still use them, principals said.

“As long as a large number of universities request it, I believe it should be made available to them — regardless of whether a high school thinks it is valuable. Many colleges value it, and that is what matters,” Gilligan said.

Gilligan said he thinks Henry Clay’s council members have students’ best interests at heart, but he’s concerned that parents of middle school students who will be affected by the policy change haven’t been given notice.

Little said he would notify officials at the middle schools that feed into Henry Clay and “conduct more research on our end.”

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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