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Sterling will end class rank system

Principal: ‘It’s such a surface-level thing ... and a misnomer’

Published: Monday, May 13, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

STERLING – Sterling High School has not named a valedictorian or a salutatorian for many years.

And starting with the graduating class of 2015, students who will be juniors next year, the school will not assign a class ranking, either.

Why the change?

Class rank is not an accurate gauge of student performance in high school, administrators say. Students are meeting and exceeding benchmarks but are not being recognized for those and other accomplishments and are even being squeezed out of the upper echelon of their class, they say.

“It’s such a surface-level thing,” Principal Jason Austin said. “And it’s a misnomer sometimes.”

Take two students who have a 4.0 grade-point average.

Student A might have taken an average courseload with few, if any, advanced classes and received straight A’s. Student B, on the other hand, might have taken a rigorous courseload with several advanced classes and received mostly A’s and maybe a few B’s.

Student A is ranked No. 1 in the class. Student B is ranked No. 25.

A college or a local organization awarding scholarships might think Student A is more deserving of college admission or a scholarship than Student B – based solely on class rank.

“The focus should be more on their overall background, experience, classes, grades and test scores,” Austin said. “Really, the key points are academic rigor, grade-point average and [standardized] test scores.”

Sauk Valley Community College, like most community colleges, does not use class rank as a criterion for admission. It’s an open-enrollment institution, so it admits anyone who applies, said Pamela Medema, coordinator of enrollment services and registrar.

Four-year colleges and universities have formal criteria for admission and so might ask applicants to provide their class rank. But more and more institutions are starting to discount the importance of class rank, instead placing more weight on ACT or SAT scores, grade-point average and academic rigor.

Sterling High provides colleges and universities with a profile that details the classes it offers, among other things, to give admissions counselors a better picture of students coming from the school.

The school still will keep those academic standing statistics and still will provide them to college and university admissions offices upon request; it just won’t put them on student transcripts.

The school hopes to provide a similar academic profile to local scholarship organizations – many of which ask for and place at least some emphasis on class rank – to help them better understand students.

“We want to encourage them to look at the whole student,” Austin said.

A broader honor system, such as the Latin “cum laude” system used most often at the collegiate level, could eliminate barriers to college admission or to scholarships, especially for those students in the middle of their classes, officials say.

Sterling High School currently honors its National Honor Society students and its AVID college prep program students with colored cords at graduation. The school also lists other honors, awards and achievements in the program for graduation.

But the school, for many years, has not named a valedictorian or a salutatorian; it instead has two student-selected speakers, the senior class president, and the student council president speak at graduation.

What about other high schools?

A recent report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling says more than half of all high schools no longer report student rankings.

Many of the elite high schools in Illinois have moved away from using class rank, but Sterling High School might be the first in the area to abandon the traditional system.

Rock Falls High School assigns a class rank and names a valedictorian and salutatorian. But the school relies on a weighted grading system to encourage and honor students for taking on advanced classes.

“Students are not penalized because the point value for a weighted-grade [course] is higher than the corresponding traditional course,” Principal Ron McCord said.

Administrators have discussed abandoning the valedictorian and salutatorian honors in favor of a broader honor system – high honors, honors, etc. – to recognize more students at graduation.

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