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  • Zoe Becker

Why Doesn’t Walls Have Class Rank?

The Common Application asks students to record their class rank, “if available” / Credits: Zoe Becker

Every year, as seniors across the country fill out their Common Application, they encounter a field asking them for their class rank. However, unlike thousands of others, Walls students don’t enter a numerical answer to this question.

Walls officially stopped ranking its students in 2018. Concern over class rank at Walls first arose the year before, when a group of parents and students wrote to the DCPS chancellor claiming there was unfairness in Walls’s rankings system.

According to an FAQ written by the group, “The important and undisputed fact is that each category of SWW students have had different access to and opportunities for weighted grades which result in different potential maximum GPAs and consequently it is severely unfair to rank these students in a single pool.”

The group was referring to three categories of SWW students: four-year students, transfer students, students in the George Washington Early College Program. Even if students in each of the three categories had perfect grades, their ranks would be different because of the courses available to them.

The FAQ said that the maximum achievable GPA was 4.24 for four-year students, 4.46 for GWECP students, and 4.40 for a junior year transfer student.

The group suggested that the easiest solution to the problem was to eliminate class rank altogether, and that’s just what Walls administration did.

Principal Sylvia Isaac cited the sheer impracticality of class rank at a top-caliber school in the region as a primary reason Walls decided to do away with it. “With so many high-achieving students, the accolades of valedictorian or salutatorian may lose some of their significance,” she said.

SWW counselor Kathryn Moore agreed, saying, “Rank is less significant at a high-achieving school like SWW, where many students demonstrate exceptional academic achievement.”

Ms. Moore also noted some upsides to class rank. “[It] can be beneficial to recognize student academic achievement, as it provides the highest achieving students in a particular class or school with an extra honor and recognition for their performance,” she said.

While many DCPS schools still use this benchmark given its benefits, some nearby school districts, such as Montgomery County Public Schools, have gotten rid of class rank as well.

Ms. Isaac said Walls’s end-of-year award ceremony is a substitute for class rank as a means of student recognition. In lieu of class rank, “we want to recognize students who may not be at the top but who are trying,” she said.

Although some students may worry about not having a rank on their college applications, administrators said it wouldn’t be an issue. “If a school does not rank, that information is shared with colleges and they use other metrics (such as grades, scores, essays, recommendations, etc.) to evaluate the student’s academic performance,” Ms. Moore said. “Students are not at any disadvantage by not having a class ranking.”

Walls maintains some signifiers of students’ academic achievement: summa cum laude (GPA of 3.8 or above), magna cum laude (GPA of 3.60 to 3.79), cum laude (GPA of 3.40 to 3.59).

Senior Eli Rethy agreed that the lack wasn’t important and said not having class rank “didn’t really affect college applications.”

Ms. Isaac highlighted the benefits of the elimination of class rank, arguing that it has had the effect of “relieving stress about being valedictorian or salutatorian.”

Senior Ellie Sanders found just that. She was relieved to not have rankings on her mind throughout high school, saying she found the benefits of “a more collaborative environment outweigh any academic validation I would have received.”

Rethy agreed that not having class rank had benefits but no real downsides, saying that “not having a rank has made Walls less competitive in terms of students being cutthroat with each other without lowering academic standards.”


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