More Signs That High School Class Rank Is Falling Out of Favor

By Catherine Gewertz — November 01, 2016 2 min read
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With another college application season in full swing, it’s inevitable: news that yet another high school is halting the practice of assigning class rank to its seniors.

The latest comes from Pennsylvania, where the West Chester Area district is tossing out the practice. The last straw was when a top student was rejected by the elite University of Pennsylvania because she was ranked 15th in a class of 320, according to a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer. At least a dozen Philadelphia-area districts are considering similar moves, the newspaper said.

“They said, ‘If you didn’t rank her, she would have gotten in,’ ” Superintendent James Scanlon told the newspaper.

The abandonment of high school class rankings has been taking shape for years. A recent survey of colleges by the National Association for College Admission Counseling showed that grades and courses matter most in college admission. Class rank came in 9th on the list of 16 factors colleges consider. In 1993, 42 percent of colleges told NACAC that class rank had “considerable importance” in admissions, but by 2014, only 14 percent did. By contrast, grades and coursework have consistently ranked high in admissions officers’ considerations in NACAC surveys.

Class rank can certainly have a big impact on students, as we reported earlier this year. In an intriguing study, researchers explored the way a student’s class rank can drop when he chooses to attend a higher-performing school than the one in his neighborhood.

Many schools have been dropping class rank in an effort to get students to focus more on their own accomplishments, and less on competing with fellow students, the Washington Post reported in a story last year. Trying to encourage a more holistic view of students in admissions was another factor cited by some schools that abandoned class rank. But it sparked a cat-and-mouse game in some cases, in which colleges reconstructed class rank based on data provided by high schools, The New York Times reported.

Of course there are still a number of states that use class rank as one of several factors used to grant automatic admission into their state university systems. A report by the Education Commission of the States found 10 states with such policies on the books in 2013. The most famous of those is Texas, which grants automatic state-university admission to students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.