Blair Oaks High School eliminates class rank

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JEFFERSON CITY - The incoming freshmen at Blair Oaks High School will become the first class to not have a class rank system when they enter the school this fall. 

According to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, up to 50 percent of high schools nationwide no longer report class rank.

Across the state

Kelli Hopkins, associate executive director of Legal and Policy Services at Missouri School Boards’ Association, said she’s seen some school districts make the change, but she doesn’t have enough information to call it a "trend" in Missouri. 

Sarah Potter, communications coordinator at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said it’s up to the local school boards to make the decision, and the state doesn’t keep a record of how many schools have gotten rid of class rank. 

Hopkins said, “The information would be in a district’s policy or handbook. We do not collect handbooks and we do not index policies in a way they can be searched.”

Hopkins said the schools that have stopped ranking students do not share their reasons with the association. 

“If I had to guess, it is to honor more students and to keep from breaking ties,” she said.

At Blair Oaks High School

Emilee Jones, 18, graduated from Blair Oaks High School this past May. She’s been a student at the Blair Oaks R-II School District since kindergarten. She said during all the years she was in high school, the class rank system had been a topic of discussion among the students.

“Everyone has that sense that they do care about class rank, and that some of them do mention that maybe the system isn’t as fair as what it should, or that there are some, you know, flaws in the process,” she said.

As the valedictorian of her graduating class, Jones said she’s always been a competitor.

“It’s healthy competition,” she said. “But there’re some times it gets a little more unhealthy.”

Blair Oaks High School principal, Melinda Aholt, said the school wants to cut back on the unhealthy competition.

“Sometimes it’s an unhealthy competition between the students when they’re trying to go for that rank of number one or number two,” she said.

Aholt and Jones both said some students feel they’re “being forced” to take the weighted courses, such as AP and dual credit classes, because they allow the students to achieve GPAs that are higher than the traditional 4.0.

“As a class rank, your goal is to get the highest GPA in the class,” Jones said. “If you choose to take that class that’s not weighted, I mean, you’re down like three places.”

Aholt said without the pressure of being ranked, students would no longer feel hesitant to take the classes they truly want to take, such as yearbook, band and other fine arts classes. 

For Jones, that class is choir. 

“I would love to sing, you know,” she said. “And I did sing my freshman year, cause that’s like, you have to have that art to take. But you know, you can’t do it the next three years.”

Jones said the ranking system has a financial impact on students as well. She said because the weighted courses are usually more expensive than the unweighted ones, she’s heard people say they’re paying for their good GPAs.

“I found myself too spending extra money on dual credit classes,” she said.

While she’s been planning to study business administration at Missouri State University, she said she’s taken some classes she didn’t necessarily need. 

“Taking a bunch of dual credit history classes?” she said. “Need one for general education, but the second one? Don’t really need it, you know. Still spent the money to take it.”

She said the incoming freshmen will get a chance to personalize their schedules.

“Cause in high school, you know, you need to do what’s best for your path in college,” she said.

The path to college

Aholt and Jones both said removing class rankings from transcripts would broaden student’s opportunities with colleges and scholarship programs.

Jones said the University of Missouri is a good example.

“Especially for Mizzou,” she said. “There is more opportunity for scholarships and application process without your class rank.”

According to MU Office of Admissions, the university has separate sets of requirements for students from ranking and non-ranking schools:

      Requirements for ranking schools:

- ACT or SAT score

- class rank

      Requirements for non-ranking schools:

- ACT or SAT score

- core GPA: earned in a specific set of courses required by MU

Blair Oaks' school officials think more of their students will qualify for admissions and scholarships if core GPA is used instead of class rank.

For example: If a student was in the top 6 percent of his or her graduating class, MU would score that class ranking equal to a core GPA of 3.65, even if the student scored as low as a 17 on the ACT.

However, of the 120 graduates in the Class of 2017 at Blair Oaks High School, 39.1 percent had an overall unweighted GPA of 3.65 or above, according to its guidance counselor, Jill Shanley.

Shanley said although the school only has record of each student’s overall GPA, in most cases, it would look very similar to the core GPAs that colleges consider based on their own formula.

“Over a four-year time span, the core non-weighted GPA and the overall non-weighted GPA will not differ greatly,” she said.

MU spokesperson Christian Basi said the university often gets calls from people asking if changing into a non-ranking system would affect the students’ applications in any way, and the answer is it wouldn’t.

“The university does not have any type of quota system,” he said. “So each student is judged on their individual accomplishments and their individual academic achievements.”

The need of recognition

Jones said in a highly competitive school like Blair Oaks, even students with decent ACT scores and GPAs may be at a disadvantage in their rankings. 

“We have two National Merit scholars in the class of 2018,” she said. “34s on the ACT. That’s phenomenal, you know. That is. But they may not be top 10.”

She said the system “kind of seems weird,” but it’s how it works.

“It shouldn’t really be like that, because that’s a great ACT score, and you must be pretty darn smart to have that ACT score,” she said.

She said the ranking system doesn’t reward some of the hard-working people she knows.

“I can see everyone just feels like a lot of people get left out,” she said. 

The cum laude system

According to Aholt, the former principal Gary Verslues made the suggestion to replace the class rank system with the cum laude system. She said in the last several years, Verslues had been collecting ideas among students, teachers and counselors before putting together a proposal.   

According to the proposal, the new system will no longer compare students to each other, but will take more factors into account than the GPA-ranking system.

     Summa Cum Laude requirements:

- 4.0 GPA or higher

- 28 ACT or higher

- 8 semesters of high school

- 95% Attendance (Cumulative-Same as A+)

     Magna Cum Laude requirements:

- 3.85 GPA or higher

- 26 ACT or higher

- 8 semesters of high school

- 95% Attendance (Cumulative-Same as A+)

     Cum Laude requirements:

- 3.75 GPA or higher

- 24 ACT or higher

- 8 semesters of high school

- 95% Attendance (Cumulative-Same as A+)

Jones said she doesn’t think the new system would be any easier than the traditional one, as it expects the students to be more well-rounded. 

Aholt said all current Blair Oaks High School students will still continue with class ranks. The new system will go into effect for the Class of 2021.