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High schools questioning use of class ranks

The terms valedictorian and salutatorian don’t carry the same weight they once did.

Of the school districts in the Tri-Cities, only St. Charles School District 303 names a valedictorian at its high schools. Nearby Kaneland School District 302 also recognizes a valedictorian and salutatorian.

But administrators at those districts said that could change.

Kaneland High School Principal Chip Hickman said District 302 is considering abandoning class rank. Last year in St. Charles, participants of Summit 303 – the district’s community involvement event – expressed a desire to move away from class rankings.

Jason Pearson, St. Charles area assistant superintendent for 6-12 education, said the administration plans to bring the topic to the school board for discussion this spring or early summer.

“Overwhelmingly,” he said of the Summit 303 discussions, “the consensus was it’s something no longer needed for the community and our students.”

Other school districts seem to agree.

According to a list compiled by District 303, about a dozen suburban districts have stopped using class rank, including New Trier, Indian Prairie and Naperville.

Locally, administrators from Batavia School District 101 and Geneva School District 304 said their districts use class ranks, but do not recognize a valedictorian or salutatorian. Rather, they said, they honor the top students in other ways by letting them wear special stoles at graduation.

Honoring top students – such as with the Latin honor system, which includes cum laude and magna cum laude – is a possibility at Kaneland, Hickman said.

“The class rank model is exclusionary,” he said. “A number of students are meeting outstanding benchmarks and are not being recognized for their accomplishments.”

Brad Newkirk, chief academic officer at Batavia, and Geneva High School Principal Tom Rogers said the valedictorian system resulted in negative, unhealthy competition. Students would place more emphasis on rank than take courses that would challenge or interest them, they said.

“They didn’t want to do anything to risk their standing,” Rogers said of some students’ unwillingness to take Advanced Placement classes their senior year.

He noted Geneva High School is investigating moving away from class rank but has not yet done so. He said the school has started asking college representatives whether they use class rank in the admissions process.

“The vast majority of schools do not use our rank to help them make their decision,” Rogers said.

Other school administrators noted this trend among colleges as reasons for eliminating class rank. Neither Waubonsee Community College nor Elgin Community College use class rank, officials said.

“It’s become very subjective nowadays because not every school ranks students the same,” said Trevell Eddins, director of admissions and recruitment for ECC.

He noted more colleges and universities are using ACT scores as an admission factor because those are standardized and easier to interpret.

Class rank could, however, be used when determining scholarships, the college officials said.

If more schools move away from class rank, Waubonsee spokesman Jeff Noblitt said the college might need to re-evaluate its requirements for its Gustafson Scholarship Program. Recipients must meet two of three requirements, which include ranking in the top 20 percent of their class, Noblitt said.

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