District to propose recommendation to school board to eliminate, alter or keep class rank
March 2, 2020
RJUHSD may eliminate or alter its class rank system by late spring of this year.
At the school board’s request, deputy superintendent of education services Jess Borjon started holding open meetings in January to reconsider the class rank system with the input of staff, student and parent representatives from each site.
The plan is for the team to present a recommendation for RJUHSD’s rank system to the school board by late April or early May, though the date may change if the recommendation takes more time. According to Borjon, the goal is to determine how any graduation honors system implemented will benefit students.
“Where does class rank sit in our culture and our processes for supporting students?” asked Borjon. “And when I say supporting students, I mean in its total context of academically, socially, emotionally, college and career ready.”
RJUHSD is one of multiple local districts that have reconsidered class rank, including Placer Union High School District and Rocklin Unified School District.
The conversation within RJUHSD began in 2015, when Granite Bay High School’s valedictorian stood in front of the school board to make a case against class rank. For the next year, the district debated its method of reporting rank, ultimately deciding to leave the system as is in late 2016.
Last year, the school board reached out to Borjon to return to the discussion, this time with a focus on seeking the RJUHSD community’s input throughout the process. At a district level, this means open meetings and surveys.
At Roseville High School, principal Nicholas Richter took the conversation to RHS’ site council and leadership staff.
“If there’s any positive for the student to continue to report class rank, our site has kind of said we’d like to keep it in place,” Richter said. “But it’s a district-wide discussion… Maybe we don’t have as big of an issue with it, but at other sites, it may be very impactful.”
For Allie Jones, a sophomore at Granite Bay High School, class rank crosses into the classroom environment – to the extent that when she asked a student for help in one of her honors classes, the student refused because they wanted a higher rank than her.
“It’s extremely stressful. That’s what a lot of people care about – class rank, class rank, class rank, always,” Jones said. “I don’t have an issue with class rank being a thing. Maybe just not being on everyone’s transcripts in Aries… I don’t want it to be as stressful and competitive of an environment at school.”
At Oakmont High School, senior Jordan Hicks said class rank doesn’t play too large a role in influencing the class environment.
“For the general population, it’s kind of nice to see where you are, but they don’t need to be at the top,” Hicks said. “It does vary by person honestly. Most people are aiming for the GPA, not the class rank.”
The research process guiding the class rank decision includes investigating rank’s role in the college and scholarship application process. One of the sources considered is the National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s 2017 State of College Admission. The report shows that more and more colleges are placing less importance in class rank – between 2006 and 2016, the number of colleges stating rank was of considerable importance fell from 23% to 9%.
Certain colleges, including the Cal State and UC systems, recalculate students’ GPA regardless. Others, when facing a transcript without a ranking, turn to the student’s schedule to determine course load rigor.
“The fact is that there are a lot of school districts out there that don’t report class rank,” said Jason Bradley, a counselor at Roseville High School. “Colleges still find a way to determine how competitive an applicant is.”
This is part of why Placer Union High School District stopped reporting class rank altogether on transcripts this school year, according to Jeff Tooker, PUHSD deputy superintendent of education services.
“It just became more and more evident that class rank was an outdated measurement system that we didn’t need anymore,” Tooker said. “The way they rank students is flawed. It’s inconsistent from one school to another, and one district to another… It sets up a lot of kids to feel like they’re failures when they’re not.”
At PUHSD, the change went into effect immediately, rather than being grandfathered in with the incoming freshman class – which will be another element to consider when drafting the recommendation for the board. Tooker said there was very little pushback, particularly after informing parents and students that, on the off-chance a scholarship or university does require rank, the district would still be able to provide them that information.
The same holds true for RJUHSD, should the district choose to eliminate rank.
Other schools honor groups of students at graduation, rather than ranking individually and awarding distinctions to the top few students. High Schools in Rocklin Unified School District give the title of valedictorian to all students graduating in the top two percent of their class.
Oak Park High School in Oak Park, CA uses the Latin System adopted by most colleges, naming students Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude and Cum Laude based on their unweighted GPA. Separate distinctions are added onto the title – highest honors, high honors, honors and distinction – based on the number of advanced courses the student takes.
According to Oak Park principal Kevin Buchanan, prior to the change, the school had issues with competitiveness between students and parents or students contesting their rank with the school. This helped drive the switch to the Cum Laude system.
“It has to do with recognizing as many students as possible… Now, you’ve got CP kids who have not taken a single AP or honors, but they’ve worked hard through school – working as hard as they can to achieve at the level that they can achieve,” Buchanan said. “They can get Magna Cum Laude or Summa Cum Laude. And that was huge. That stops stratifying our kids into layers where they become labeled.”
Rather than having a valedictorian or salutatorian speak at graduation, a panel at Oak Park selects one or two student speakers from interested candidates. It starts with an announcement in the bulletin, after which students apply, deliver their speech for the panel, and from there the speaker is selected.
According to Borjon, the current discussions around class rank at RJUHSD will not affect the system for selection of valedictorian or salutatorian currently used to determine speakers at graduation, but that conversation may come in the future. The decision this year will specifically determine the reporting of rank.
Buchanan said he’s found more encompassing distinctions prevent people from reducing a student to a number.
“It’s like the colleges really want us to do their work for them. You figure out who our kids are,” Buchanan said. “We’ll give you as much information about our school and about our students as we possibly can. But we’re not going to rank them for you. That’s an oversimplification of who our students are.”