- In a split 5-4 decision, the school board of Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland voted to eliminate class rank at high schools but will continue to allow schools to name valedictorians and salutatorians, if they wish, by using criteria other than grade point average (GPA), such as character, leadership and service, the Capital Gazette reports.
- Under the new system, which begins in the 2021-2022 school year, high schools will honor students under the Latin Honors system, but students who earn summa cum laude recognition (4.3 GPA or higher) can apply for consideration as valedictorian or salutatorian under the new criteria after completing seven semesters.
- Josie Urrea, vice president of the board who is a student member, was among the proponents of the changes. Urrea's position is that class rankings place English learners and special education students at a disadvantage because they don’t usually take Advanced Placement courses and other classes that allow them to earn the higher GPAs. Other board members said the pressure to become valedictorian creates an unhealthy competitive environment. One board member, Melissa Ellis, said a local student turned down an internship at Johns Hopkins University in favor of taking an advanced course more likely to raise her GPA. However, opposing board members said competition is healthy and encourages more rigorous course choices.
A growing number of schools are choosing to eliminate class rankings in favor of systems such as the Latin Honors system or a broader definition of “valedictorian” that has some schools honoring as many as 72 valedictorians. Only about half of high schools are reporting class rankings, according to data from the National Association of Secondary School Principals. While some districts are abolishing valedictorians and salutatorians, others are focusing on Latin Honors, but leaving the decision about top spot designations to individual schools.
Student stress and the effect on the mental health is one reason districts cite for these decisions. Some school leaders also say that not reporting rankings helps a student’s chance of college acceptance because institutions have to delve into other aspects of the learner's record.
Others feel students are more likely to explore subjects they are passionate about or accept internships that may be more valuable to them if they are not pressured to raise their GPAs.
Colleges seem to be placing less emphasis on class rankings. According to the 2017 State of College Admission, only 9% of colleges placed considerable importance on class ranking while 32% placed no importance on it. However, some colleges do still value the rankings. And the elimination of class rankings may have an impact on scholarships that students receive, as one student noted in the Arundel High School’s newspaper during the recent debate over class rankings at that school.
Ultimately, the decision depends on the qualities that schools seek to develop in their students. Class rankings do encourage students to pursue more rigorous coursework, develop discipline and learn time-management skills, which are all valuable assets. But this may come at the cost of students' well-being in a competitive school culture in some cases.