Saying that Evanston Township High School is an “island” among the high schools to which it generally compares itself, Beth Arey of the College and Career  Center proposed on June 10 that ETHS “discontinue the practice of evaluating students based on grade-point average, effective in 2015.”

Dr. Peter Bavis, assistant superintend for curriculum and instruction, echoed the recommendation that the school eliminate class ranking.

Doing so would “increase the post-secondary opportunities for all students,” Ms. Arey told the District 202 School Board. It would “allow students to be reviewed holistically,” and would push colleges to look at grades, essays, in-class performance and letters of recommendation rather than a simple ranked number, she said.

“We know that students are still going to be competitive,” said Ms. Arey; “they will still try to get high GPAs. But kids might not have to sacrifice [taking a class they are interested in] if they are not worried about whether it will negatively affect their class rank.”

Along with eliminating class rank, ETHS should “improve the profile of the school that goes out with college applications,” Ms. Arey said. The improved profile would report the “highest weighted and highest unweighted GPAs,” would have a rating scale on such things as [academic ] level, personal accomplishments and character” and would enhance the picture of ETHS as a competitive high school with a rigorous curriculum.

Board Discussion

Mark Metz asked Ms. Arey how she knew that some students shied away from taking classes they were interested in lest they hurt their class ranking. “Students shared that information with me,” she said. He also asked, “Why not calculate the rankings and let students choose whether or not to include it on their [college or employment] application?”

“You can’t have it both ways,” said Ms. Arey. “The question [on applications] is, ‘Does your high school rank [students] – yes or no?’”

“Let’s talk about the top 10 percent of students,” said Mr. Metz; “Do they get hurt? Why or why not?”

“The top kids are not being harmed,” said Ms. Arey. She introduced Dan Rogen, a counselor at New Trier High School and parent of an ETHS student to describe how the elimination of class ranks has affected New Trier students.

Mr. Rogen said the overall impact has been positive, as more New Trier students have been accepted into more selective colleges and universities.

“Anecdotally, we saw our numbers go up dramatically. We saw a wider group of students getting into a wider array of highly selective schools [after class rankings were eliminated],” Mr. Rogen told the Board. “It gives more leeway to schools to use their professional judgment.”

Mr. Rogen told the RoundTable that New Trier had phased out the class-rankings over several years, first reporting students’ rank by deciles, then eliminating it all together.

The recommendation for ETHS is to eliminate ranking, but not GPA, all together. There is about one-one-hundredth of a point in difference between the number-one ranked student and the 25th-ranked student at ETHS, she said.

Scott Rochelle said, “My initial concern was students [still] choosing [to take rigorous] classes. … Do we honestly believe that students will not scrape to get the best GPA?”

“There’s nothing wrong with students wanting to get the best GPA,” said Ms. Arey. “Students have control over their grades but not over class rank. … No one is trying to make students less competitive.  … Our students take different courses and have different teachers and different interests.” Class ranking, she said, assumes one-size-fits all assessment.

Without having to be worried about class ranking, Ms. Arey said, “students might take a course they’re interested in, even if it’s not a weighted [that is, honors or AP] class – Chinese, for example.”

“In 30 seconds can you make the case for keeping class rankings?” asked Bill Geiger.

“It’s rewarding kids for their performance – a pat on the back,” said Ms. Arey.

“Would you say a pat on the back or an acknowledgement of hard work?” asked Mr. Metz.

“I would say a GPA is an acknowledgement of hard work. You don’t need five AP courses to get into college. … You need passion, a love of learning.”

Jonathan Baum said he “feels strongly about the need to eliminate class rank.  I am disappointed that it is delayed until 2015.” He said that when the measure comes to the Board for a vote – likely later this month, “I will offer an amendment to have it implemented with the class of 2014.”

Doug Holt said that when he spoke with an admissions officer this summer at Boston College about class rank, “I expected to hear complaints about watering down of standards, but all I heard was, ‘Join the club.’”

Pat Savage-Williams said, “It’s definitely time [to eliminate class ranking].”

Two persons spoke at public comment, both in favor of eliminating class ranking. “I am now persuaded that abolishing class rank will be good for students,” said Beth Laing, whose son graduated from ETHS in 2011. “I urge the Board to eliminate class rank with the class of 2014.”

Jessica Baum, who said she had been an ETHS alum for one day, also urged that class rank be eliminated for the next class. “I was in the top 10 percent,” she said; “then I wasn’t; then I was by the time I graduated. This whole concept of having class rank is actually kind of ridiculous.” She said she “chose to take classes that I was interested in… and sacrificed class rank.” Class rank, she said, “stops kids from following their passion – which is something we don’t want to do at this school.”

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...