What’s the point of rankings if they don’t rank anything?

There’s apparently a trend among some high schools to have multiple valedictorians. Their explanation in part revolves around having many excellent students with perfect GPAs and straight A’s through all four years of school. My high school certainly had several of us who had straight A’s all the way through. We didn’t have multiple valedictorians, though, because we ranked on a 100 point scale, rather than a 4 point scale. Averaging all our grades out of 100 obviously gives more sensitivity for differences in performance, since the person who got a 99 in the class gets a better score in their GPA than the one who got a 91, but this difference is lost on a 4 point scale. So the claim that they have a 20 way tie for number 1 in the class is disingenuous. Assuming the classes are graded on a 100 point scale, they have a very easy solution to the there-are-too-many-good-students conundrum.

I understand the urge to recognize the efforts and excellence of all the students, and certainly of all the top students. I understand the desire to reduce some of the competitiveness that comes from rankings, to reward everyone who works hard enough (or is just smart enough) to get A’s in every class for four years. If that’s the goal, they can just get rid of the rankings altogether, or they can do what my medical school did–we weren’t ranked except by as top 25%, bottom 25%, and middle 50% of the class, which allowed the people who did really well to shine  without having any real competition where one student’s good performance undermines another’s. If they want to recognize everyone’s effort, then they should, but then they shouldn’t have any valedictorian. In that case, everyone deserves recognition, including that poor left-out sap who got one B in P.E. who isn’t one of the 20 valedictorians. If you’re going to recognize certain students based on performance, you have to set a standard somewhere, and making that standard one that includes 20 students is just as much short-changing the efforts of the rest as making as standard that only includes one student. But it’s ridiculous to claim that 2o people are #1 in the class. Either the ranking means nothing, in which case why bother with it? Or the ranking means something, a recognition of the person whose grades were best over 4 years, without any guarantee of future success or wealth, just a prize for excellence by that particular measure. If that’s what it means, then let it mean that, and recognize the ONE person who is #1 in the class. And, in the process, teach everyone else in the class that what matters much more than recognition for your effort is your effort, and that success doesn’t mean awards and being patted on the back. I don’t think “grade inflation” is the issue. I don’t think recognizing everyone’s effort is bad if that’s what the school wants to do. I don’t think having class rankings is bad either. But the schools should pick one way or the other–either there are rankings, or everyone gets recognized for their own unique contributions, efforts, and talents. They can’t have it both ways without making it completely meaningless.

 

We’re all No. 1! Is 21 valedictorians too many? – Vitals.

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