Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

[Susan notes: This issues gets at the core of what people believe about the purpose of education. Take your pick.]

Published in New York Times

To the editor

Re "High Schools Avoid Class Ranking, Vexing Colleges" (news article, March 5):

As a senior at Ridgewood (N.J.) High School in the 1950's, I was startled one day in June to hear a fellow student say he hoped that I would get a B on a final exam. Asked why, he replied that he would then be No. 1 in the class and I would be No. 2.

That was my first indication that the class was ranked.

My parents had apparently decided not to share that information with me, and I had gone my innocent way, studying for tests because I wanted to do well, sometimes even because I wanted to learn the material.

I have since spent more than 40 years teaching high school students. At the high school where I teach, we don't use absolute class rank, weighted grades or numerical grades. I would stop teaching if I thought that admission to college depended strictly on numbers, SAT scores or class rank.

Jane W. Shuffelton

Rochester, March 6, 2006

To the Editor:

The movement among high schools to stop reporting class rank to colleges eliminates an advantage deserved by students who manage to rank No. 1.

Eighteen years ago, I was able to report a class rank of No. 1 when I applied to colleges with highly competitive admissions. Perhaps I am now supposed to engage in egalitarian self-criticism about this, but at the time, I saw nothing wrong or elitist about being ranked first under a clearly defined and publicized scoring system.

I have no doubts and no regrets that the ranking helped distinguish me from "the total child" of other applicants.

Kevin Dayton

Roseville, Calif., March 5, 2006

To the Editor:

You mention a factor in the decisions of many schools not to rank: the ruthless competition that develops among students.

I graduated from a competitive suburban public school where rank was everything. The pressure it applied on all of us was crushing.

The decision to end ranking is not just about the college admission process; it is also about the mental and educational well-being of students.

Colleges may choose to take a cynical view on the matter, but ending rank allows students to focus on their education without having to mentally calculate the grade point averages of their classmates.

My high school eventually ended ranking, and I think that all those who came after that decision, including my brother, are much better for it.

Molly Parke

Cambridge, Mass., March 5, 2006

To the Editor:

The argument about class ranking in high schools seems to be missing a very salient point that might tip the scale in favor of class ranking.

Some high schools award a "grade bonus" in honor classes or advanced placement classes, making each letter grade one point higher. A mediocre performance in these classes would be awarded a grade considered outstanding in a normal class.

Students at schools that do not have such a policy would then be at a disadvantage when compared nationwide. Either a class ranking or some automatic "regularizing" of such grades would be necessary for fair assessments to be made across the board.

While there is likely no perfect system to secure ideal students for each university, we live in a competitive society that often motivates us from childhood. To ignore it here, where not only schools within a region but also regions themselves may differ greatly, would impede proper student selection. This can be unfair to both the students and the university.

Alfred S. Posamentier

Dean, School of Education

The City College of New York

New York, March 5, 2006

To the Editor:

The demand by parents and high schools to look at the "total child" seems legitimate; colleges are looking at class rank only because they are relying on grade point average, which seems illegitimate.

Comparing grades across schools is too fraught with pitfalls to be rescued by the addition of class rank. College admissions personnel, extending even to the Ivy League, behave like a secret society; they might as well be interpreting animal entrails to decide who shall walk their hallowed halls.

That they behave this way is understandable; they lack the resources necessary to assess the totality of their applicants' qualifications.

But the answer is not to devote more resources to the admissions process; the answer is to open up higher education to all who truly have the ambition for it.

Stop concentrating resources in elite institutions that (with questionable accuracy) award admission to those whom they deem deserving.

Richard Wolfe

Cumberland, Me., March 5, 2006

multiple authors

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.