By Bob Skolnik
Class rank could soon be a relic of the past at Riverside-Brookfield High School. At its Aug. 11 meeting, the District 208 Board of Education will consider whether to eliminate class rank, following a growing trend among high schools.
In 2014, the Lyons Township High School District 204 Board of Education voted to eliminate class rank, and the Class of 2017 was the last class to be ranked. Those opposed to class rank say it perpetuates inequities of race and class and serves no useful purpose.
"In my opinion this is also an equity issue," said District 208 school board member Ramona Towner.
Those in favor of eliminating class rank also say most colleges and universities don't consider class rank in their admissions process. They also say class rank encourages students to sometimes try to game the system, making course selection decisions based on grades rather than interests. They also say that class rank can provoke needless anxiety and stress for some students.
"We don't want students to compete against each other; we want them to compete against themselves," said RBHS counselor Jim Franko at the July 14 meeting of the District 208 school board.
RBHS mulled a similar move a decade ago when then-Principal Pamela Bylsma announced a study to examine whether the school should eliminate class rank, using many of the same arguments being made today. The idea never gained traction, apparently.
Both of the new student representatives to the school board said they favor keeping class ranks.
"Personally, I don't see myself competing with myself really," said Ciszewski. "If I have competition from another person, I feel like I'm more motivated to work for it."
For a long time, RBHS has honored the top 10 students in each class with medals at graduation. That tradition would probably come to an end if RBHS eliminates class rank.
Ciszewski, who said he ranks in the top 10 of the Class of 2021, contended that many high-ranking students want to keep class rank.
"Personally, I think we should keep it," Ciszewski said. "But I spoke to a lot of students about this, and what I've seen is that the people that are in the top 5, 10 percent, 25, would rather keep it. They see it as getting a reward."
But Ciszewski said many other students either don't care or would like to eliminate class rank.
"Most students do want to get rid of it, or some don't even know what it was," Ciszewski said. "Many students don't really care about it if they're not in the top 5, top 10. But the people in those percentages really do know they're in those percentages and care about that."
Board member Laura Hruska seemed reluctant to eliminate class rank, saying at the board meeting that the school should honor and recognize very high-performing students.
"Why would we want to take away an achievement," Hruska said. "How do we also recognize that special group? I don't want us to regress to the mean where everybody is equal."
RBHS Principal Hector Freytas said that if the school board does eliminate class rank, it could adopt the so-called Latin model used at many colleges and recognize graduates as cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude graduates.
Cum laude graduates would be those who graduate with grade point average of 3.0 to 3.49, magna cum laude would be those graduating with a 3.5-4.0 GPA, and those graduating with a GPA of above 4.0 would be summa cum laude.
Freytas said such a system would allow RBHS to recognize more students, and more minority students.
"How many Latino and black students have been ranked, let's say, in the top 10, top 20, top 50," Freytas said at the July 14 school board meeting. "I've seen a few, but this is an opportunity to include more of our changing student and changing demographic."
The median grade-point average at RBHS is 3.3. The school uses a weighted grade-point average, where grades in Advanced Placement and honors classes are given a higher weight.
After eliminating class rank, LTHS adopted a system of honors graduates which recognizes the top 5 to 7 percent of students.
Class rank is becoming rare at high-performing suburban high schools in the Chicago suburbs. Other high schools that no longer rank their students include Barrington High School, Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South, Fenwick, Oak Park and River Forest High School, New Trier, Lake Forest, Stevenson and York to name a few.
Scott Eggerding, the director of curriculum and Instruction at LTHS, said that said that he has seen some positive effects from eliminating class rank there.
"While we have not seen any decrease of students getting into selective colleges, we have seen more students in the middle of the class get into higher-ranked institutions," Eggerding said in an email. "We also have less competition among students to play GPA games to improve their ranking."