More on the class rank debate

The public school system in Spokane, Washington, recently announced that they will eliminate both class ranking and the valedictorian system from high schools. Walt Gardner, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District and a lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education, disagrees with the decision. And Denise Pope, co-founder of Challenge Success, disagrees with Walt.

Clearly, there are smart, informed people on both sides of the “Should high schools rank students?” debate. But that’s not the point of this entry.

Walt argues: “When students enter the workplace, they will be assessed in one way or another, whether they like it or not.”

Denise argues: “We [Challenge Success] have found that eliminating valedictorian status and class rankings has reduced stress at certain schools — especially those where achievement in the form of grades and test scores and college admission rates is valued above all other traits.”

But there is a way that students (and parents) can have the best of both the worlds that Walt and Denise describe. There is an approach that will allow you to learn from a system that assesses you whether you like it or not, but without causing undue stress. Here it is:

Accept your high school’s policy about class rank, whatever it is. Then get back to focusing on things that matter and that you can control, like your effort, goals, engagement, etc.

Decisions about school policies like class ranking should be made carefully. What works for one school or student population may not work for another, and there is certainly nothing wrong with communities of students and parents having their voices heard in those discussions.

But it’s important for students and parents to remember two things about class rank:

1. You almost certainly don’t get to control what your school decides to do with class ranks.
2. You will not meet an adult whose current levels of happiness and success are tied in any traceable way to whether or not their high school decided to assign them a numerical class ranking however many years ago.

I’ve written about the class rank debate before, and that past post includes a link to a good write-up on the University of Virginia’s blog. But the themes are always the same. The more time and energy you expend debating your school’s class ranking system, the more frustrated you’re likely to become. And the less time and energy you’ll have to invest in things that will make you both happy and successful.