Within the past decade, seven of the nine schools districts represented at the A.W. Beattie Career Center have either eliminated or found alternatives to reporting traditional class rank to colleges and universities. However, Shaler Area is one of the two districts still using the class rank system.
The traditional class rank system was set up to compare students to their peers and to determine a valedictorian and a salutatorian, but the system has become one that hurts students more than helps them.
“At one point, [class rank] was a system to outline the quality of the individual student in comparison to one another,” guidance counselor Mr. Mat Anselmino said. “It gave admission counsellors a chance to really see how certain students stacked up within a particular school… It’s an antiquated system that doesn’t indicate a student’s true value or success within a school,” Anselmino said.
There are some positives to having a class rank system in place, but the benefits are only realized by students who fall in at or near the top of their class.
A few years ago, the school board was presented a proposal to eliminate class rank. However, parents whose children were some of the top ranking students fought to keep the system in place.
“The families who are maybe in the top 20 highly value class rank. I also think (the desire to keep class rank) is based on a lot of tradition. Shaler takes pride in holding on to some strong traditions,” assistant principal Mrs. Joanne Townsend said.
For scheduling purposes, Anselmino believes the traditional class rank system is a disservice to all students as those near the top of a class try to manipulate class selections to increase their GPA, and consequently, class rank.
“Students that may have a desire to really explore a content area but simply do not have the space (in their schedule) beyond lunch aren’t given the opportunity to actually take the class,” Anselmino said. “Students who may want to take another Science class, for example, in lieu of their lunch, haven’t been able to, simply because it would give them an unfair advantage in class rank. All students are negatively impacted because of the fact we limit their scheduling opportunities.”
Other local school districts including Avonworth, Deer Lakes, Fox Chapel, Hampton, North Allegheny, North Hills and Pine Richland have found alternatives to class rank or have eliminated it.
“We got rid of class rank to encourage students to focus more on learning instead of a number,” Avonworth guidance counselor Ms. Nicole Levis said. “Also, we found students were not getting admitted to post-secondary schools because of their rank.”
Avonworth is just one of the local schools that have completely eliminated class rank. However, a majority of the other districts have found alternatives to the system.
Fox Chapel adopted the decile system to report class rank in categories instead of an individual number. They take the total amount of students and break them down into 10% slots which represent the decile. For example, the first decile would be for students falling in the top 10%, second decile top 20% and the third decile would be the top 30% and so on.
“With a true number one system, students are sometimes motivated to take weighted classes just to increase their GPA to try and be #1 more so than taking classes they are truly interested in and want to learn from,” Fox Chapel High School guidance counselor, Mr. John Baxter said. “Competition is not always healthy in this respect.”
Even though Shaler Area still utilizes the class rank system, Superintendent Mr. Sean Aiken wonders if class rank is worthwhile.
“I just don’t know if [class rank] means anything to the next level. It should serve a purpose. Is this purely for bragging rights or is this to help you get into the school of your choice?” Aiken said.
Several local colleges and universities including LaRoche and the University of Pittsburgh do not focus on class rank. Class rank, at one point, used to be a deciding factor for the majority of colleges and universities, but times have changed.
“La Roche College does not use class rank in making an admissions decision,” LaRoche Admissions counselor Terrance Kizina said. “We would consider the following in making an admissions decision: the courses taken in high school, how they relate to the major in which the student is applying to and how the student has performed in those courses, the student’s overall grade point average as computed from the high school and SAT or ACT scores, which will be superscored.”
Mr. Marc Harding, the chief enrollment officer at the University of Pittsburgh, said that the admission decision for Pitt is not solely based on a student’s class ranking.
“Class rank is reviewed as part of the high school transcript. The admissions committee considers it a factor, but with holistic review, it is one of many factors,” Harding said.
The question becomes: Why is Shaler Area sticking to a system that many high schools and colleges seem to be minimizing in importance or eliminating altogether? As Townsend suggested earlier it could be as easy as one word: tradition.
“Shaler Area is a middle class, blue-collared community,” Activities Office director Mrs. Mindy Thiel said. “The people that did live here and do live here are very proud of what Shaler has been built upon because that’s who we are. Once people get engrained that is how we’ve always done it, that’s how it should be, in their mind.”
With the election several new school board members and the selection of a new district superintendent over the past couple of years, the topic of the class rank system may be revisited, but that does not mean it will be changed.
“To make any big sweeping changes in a place like Shaler is hard because there is so much community and tradition here… I’m not opposed to change, but change for the sake of change is not necessarily good. Change for the sake of making something better is something that I would be in favor of,” Aiken said.