Alexandria City Public Schools is likely to eliminate high school class rankings in the coming weeks, joining the area's larger school systems in tossing out valedictorian status in an effort to curb competition and graduate well-rounded students.
The proposal was brought forward by T.C. Williams High School Principal Suzanne Maxey and has received support from the School Board and parents at community meetings. But the decision ultimately rests with Superintendent Morton Sherman, who said he is "leaning toward elimination" of class rankings.
"My general sense is that it's an issue of fairness and, secondly, an issue of opportunity," Sherman said. "It seems the point spread is so minor between valedictorian, second, third, fourth, fifth, and if someone is named valedictorian it's a nice thing, but fourth place could be just a couple hundredths of points behind them, and that's not nearly as cool."
In addition to singling out students when many have made similar achievements, rankings discourage students from taking electives that aren't weighted as heavily for their grade point averages, Sherman said. Classes like art and band are usually weighted so that an A earns a student a 4.0 for the course. Students are avoiding these classes for more honors-level courses (4.5) or Advanced Placement courses (5.0).
Greg Forbes, the director of counseling at T.C. Williams, said a group of high-achieving students came to him last year with a proposal to weight fine arts and technical electives as honors courses. "I thought that was interesting, and I asked them why, and they said it was because of their rankings," Forbes said. "I thought, 'Let's go about this a different way.' "
The area's largest and top-performing school systems, in Montgomery and Fairfax counties, have long since done away with class rankings. Montgomery's was tossed in 1993, as the school board felt the rankings were creating unnecessary competition. Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman John Torre said Fairfax's decision was made "based on the negative impact -- or perceived negative impact -- rank had on students" who achieved high grade point averages but still didn't receive top standing.
The public school systems in the District and Prince George's County do award class rankings, while Arlington's system ranks on a school-by-school basis.
Sherman said he would consider evidence that eliminating rankings could hurt students' college applications but had yet to uncover any in his conversations with admissions counselors.
In the "2012 State of College Admissions" report, the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that 50.2 percent of colleges said high school rankings were of "limited" or "no importance." Thirty-one percent said rankings were of "moderate importance," while 18.8 percent said rankings were of "considerable importance."