Motivation Suffers Under District 833’s Class-rank Change

Below is my viewpoint article published in Woodbury Bulletin on June 5, 2013:

Motivation suffers under District 833’s class-rank change

While a low class rank puts students at a disadvantage in the college admission process, a high class rank can make a positive impression on a college application.

By: Qin Tang, Woodbury Bulletin

Recently District 833 announced the plan to discontinue class ranking. Beginning next year, East Ridge, Park and Woodbury high schools will no longer report student ranking, “unless there is an unlikely event in which not doing so puts our students at a disadvantage.”

The decision was made by the district’s secondary school principals.

I was surprised and disappointed by the decision. So was my son who is a freshman.

On May 22 I attended one of the two information sessions, meant to share information and gather feedback to be considered in the implementation process.

While I appreciated the “opportunity to discuss the implementation process,” and to have my voice heard, I wished the information sessions had happened before the decision was made.

The main reason for the district to eliminate class ranking is it can hurt students in the college admission process (“At several of our schools, the average grade in the building is a B+, resulting in highly successful students ranking in the lower half of their graduating class.“). In addition, class ranking causes competition among students.

While a low class rank puts students at a disadvantage in the college admission process, a high class rank can make a positive impression on a college application. So whether we keep or eliminate class ranking, some students will be disadvantaged. By eliminating class ranking, those students who work really hard and make it to the top will be disadvantaged.

Class rank is only one piece of the puzzles in the college admission process. My main concern is getting rid of ranking will also diminish the roles it plays in other areas – benchmarking, motivation and competition.

For many students and parents, class rank serves as a benchmark to measure student performance in comparison to their peers. Doing away with rankings eliminates a reality check for students on how they do and where they stand academically.

Class rank can also be a productive tool to motivate students to work harder and to take harder classes, instead of the easy way out of high school. Some students look at school like a competition and see each test as a contest. For these externally motivated students, class rank is a motivating tool. It gives them a goal to work towards.

For my son, knowing his class ranking for the first time at the end of his first trimester in ninth grade motivated him to work harder for school than anything or anyone could ever do.

Another positive effect of the class ranking is it exposes our students to the competitive nature of our world at an early age. Students will be better prepared for life by experiencing a competitive academic environment.

Competition is a part of life. Competition can be a positive motivating force. Everyone benefits from the competition when all strive for the best. It raises the bar of academic achievement for all.

Students compete in sports and get ranked. Why shouldn’t students be ranked academically for whom academic performance should be more important than sports?

In the United States, more than in any other countries, athletic abilities are overvalued while academic excellence is undervalued. If a mediocre student is applauded for his athletic ability, why shouldn’t a student with academic excellence be recognized for his accomplishments?

Students who work hard and achieve top ranking should be recognized and honored, just like sports players are recognized and honored.

Real life is not like some elementary school events, in which everyone is a winner, everyone receives an award for participating, so their feelings and self-esteem are not bruised. The whole “everyone gets a trophy” mentality is creating an attitude of entitlement.

Winning and losing is a fact of life. When we fail to acknowledge and recognize winners, everyone stands to lose.

If students can’t handle some competitiveness at high schools, how will they learn to handle the significantly more competitive environments of elite colleges and grad schools, later in their professional life?

I would like to see class ranking continue. My suggestion, which was also expressed by other parents at the meeting, is to give families the responsibility and let them decide whether to include the class ranking on their report cards/transcripts or not.

Tang is a Woodbury resident