In two separate motions, the District 202 School Board voted on June 24 to discontinue its practice of ranking students, beginning with next year’s graduating class. (See June 20 Evanston RoundTable.)

In conjunction with eliminating class rankings, Evanston Township High School will also do three things: “refine” the school profile that is sent out with college admissions applications to include, among other things, the highest weighted and the highest unweighted GPA of the year’s graduating class; increase contact with admissions representatives of colleges; and add a “rating” of students, similar to that on the common college application, that allows counselors to rate students.

The two main reasons for eliminating class rank were, first, that doing so would eliminate stress on students and free them to consider taking courses that pique their interest rather than courses that contribute to their grade-point average (GPA), and, second, that without having a class ranking, college admissions officers would be forced to look more closely at student achievement – GPA, courses taken, extra-curricular activities, etc.

Board member Doug Holt asked Superintendent Eric Witherspoon whether there would be “any unintended consequences” from abolishing class rank.

Dr. Witherspoon said, “No. … If this is the motion, we’ll see that it’s done.”

Board member Scott Rochelle reiterated the objection he had voiced at the June 10 Board meeting – that eliminating class rank would eliminate an element of competition that he said is important for students to grapple with. “My view hasn’t changed,” he said. “Class ranking for the majority of students can’t hurt them. I’m concerned that we’re stripping away some tools [students] are going to need as adults.”

Both Mr. Rochelle and Adam Frim, an ETHS student who spoke during public comment, asked that a modified rating system be implemented, so that the top 10 percent, “particularly the rising seniors, who have worked so hard,” would be acknowledged.

“The problem, it turns out, is that you can’t do it both ways. You [the student] has to check [a box] whether your school ranks or does not rank,” said Dr. Witherspoon. He said that at Northwestern University this year there were 32,000 applicants, and 62 percent  had no class rank; of those admitted, 69 percent of the class admitted did not have a class ranking.

“Everyone knows Evanston,” said Mr. Rochelle. “If we say, ‘ETHS is going to do it this way …’ [the colleges would understand].”

Board member Mark Metz suggested that ETHS create a distinction for high-achieving students, such as colleges do with “cum laude, magna cum laude and summa cum laude.”

Similarly, Mr. Holt suggested creating an “order of distinction.”

Neither of those suggestions rose to the level of a motion.

Two ETHS parents, Lynn Trautmann and Joanie Kent, said during public comment that they favored eliminating class rank.

Laura Kelly, who graduated in the top of her class this year, said she had chosen not to take honors classes because “they would have made my class rank go down a lot. I knew I could not get an A- and could not take honors courses because my GPA would plummet. I took only AP courses … but sacrificed some intellectual [stimulation].”

Conversely, ETHS student Adam Frim said, “Class rank can indeed be harmful for the majority of the student body. However, I am sure we would also agree that there is a small group of students for whom class rank is of great benefit.” He cited an article in the New York Times addressing the growing trend of eliminating high school class rank, in which it was reported that, unlike high school counselors who generally advocate for this trend, college admissions officers consistently find this movement counterproductive. According to the article, Adam said, in the absence of reported class rankings, college admissions offices either recreate a more inaccurate class rank on their own or simply place more emphasis on standardized test scores, “something which we can all agree is not a direction towards which we want to move,” he said.  He added, “Along these lines, William Shain, dean of undergraduate admissions at Vanderbilt University, went so far as to call not reporting class rank ‘an abdication of educational responsibility.’” Adam also advocated reporting the ranking for the top 10 percent of students.

Mr. Rochelle voted against both motions; Board president Gretchen Livingston voted only against the motion to abolish class rank immediately.

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...