When the valedictorian at Lyons Township High School utters the last few words of his or her graduation speech on June 1, that person will also lay claim to being the last valedictorian at the school who could guarantee he or she was the top student in the class.
That’s because the LTHS District 204 Board of Education on May 19 voted to eliminate class rank for all of its students.
“More than anything, what we’re finding is that most every large high school in the area is eliminating it,” said Scott Eggerding, director of curriculum and instruction. “We had to ask, ‘Are we putting our students at a disadvantage?'”
Class rank is one of many factors colleges and universities examine when determining whom to admit. LTHS administrators said class rank was dropping in importance to colleges compared to things like rigor of classes, grade-point average, and standardized test scores.
But where class rank was still a factor, administrators wondered if LTHS — a large high school with a generally high-achieving student body — was hurting some very good students.
LTHS Superintendent Timothy Kilrea said that LTHS has had students with a grade-point average of 3.0 who ranked in the 50th percentile in their class. That means someone with a B average could rank 400 or lower in his class.
“We want those kids to get holistically reviewed,” said Kilrea.
Just one school board member, George Dougherty, cast a vote against eliminating class rank. Dougherty said instead of eliminating class rank outright, he favored a system that allowed students to include class rank information for their college applications if they believed it would help them.
“For some kids, having it would be beneficial,” said Dougherty. “We had information that many colleges still consider class rank as important or more important than things like ACT scores.”
Dougherty said the hybrid system would provide flexibility for students when applying for colleges.
“I didn’t see any reason why it wasn’t doable,” he said.
And if, as administrators contended, class rank was diminishing in importance to college admissions offices, he saw little harm in class rank information.
“If class rank is falling away, then no college will care one way or another,” Dougherty said. “If one college did, and it would help the kids, we could provide that information.”
But Eggerding said there were other reasons to stop ranking students, including academic ones. According to Eggerding, class rank is so important to some students that they will manipulate their schedules to take classes simply to enhance their class rank.
“For many students, it’s a major focus of why they take a class,” said Eggerding.
School board President Mark Pera voted to eliminate class rank, but it wasn’t a wholehearted endorsement of the idea. Pera said he wasn’t convinced that good LTHS students were necessarily being hurt by having lower class ranks, especially if colleges take into account all of the other factors they say they do.
“It’s a very gray issue in terms of to what extent kids are helped or hurt by class rank,” said Pera. “It’s tough to decipher from college admissions offices what they’re doing.”
Clearly, however, class rank is being eliminated by more and more schools, said Pera, and the board was relying on the expertise of its administrators to provide direction on the issue.
“We had a strong recommendation from the administration,” said Pera. “I voted for it, but it was reluctant.”
As for what LTHS will do about determining its valedictorian in future years, the school board has directed the administration to study various options and report back to the board.
According to Eggerding, schools without class rank approach the topic differently. Some use a team of teachers and students to choose a valedictorian; some have their student council presidents give the valedictory speech.
The administration is expected to bring recommendations of the subject to the school board in the fall.