Proud parents went to Park High School in Cottage Grove on a recent Wednesday night with tales of high-achieving children striving for the top of their class.
But the rules are changing, parents learned, and students will have to figure out new ways to compete.
Principals at the three high schools in the South Washington County School District have decided class rankings of students no longer will be reported or made available to students and families beginning next school year.
Counselors assured parents at the Park High meeting that they would continue to provide information to colleges and universities that need the rankings for admission and scholarship decisions. But they back changes that they say may encourage more students to pursue classes in areas they are passionate about but skip for fear they could drag down otherwise lofty grade-point averages.
The South Washington County schools, for example, offer Advanced Placement and other college-level courses for which students can earn above a traditional 4.0, making those so-called "weighted" courses the go-to curriculum choices for gifted students. That also can contribute, however, to seemingly strange results. At Park High, for example, a student with a 3.9 GPA would not qualify for the top 45 in the class, principal Kerry Timmerman said last week.
The move away from class rankings follows national trends and was applauded by a parent at the Park High gathering who said that his son had scored a 33 on his ACT and carried a 3.9-plus GPA yet could not crack the top 80 at his school. Other parents, however, said their children thrived on the competition for higher rankings. One parent likened the dumping of top rankings to "taking stripes off a general's jacket."
Qin Tang, whose son Andrew attends East Ridge High in Woodbury, said in an interview that her son's desire to make the top 10 of his ninth-grade class inspired him to work harder during the second trimester. She said competition "raises standards for the whole school." She also questioned the decisionmaking process. The information sessions at Park and Woodbury high schools weren't held until after the principals already agreed to drop the rankings.
The principals and counselors did, however, invite parent comment on other ways to recognize students at graduation time. One idea presented at the Park High session would be to create three categories of achievers: those who graduate with honors (3.5 to 3.666 GPA), high honors (3.667 to 3.999) and distinction (4.0 and above).
Students in search of new goals now are being encouraged to think of GPAs instead of class rank. Said Tang, "That's just very generic."
Other east metro schools that have done away with class ranks include Hill-Murray, Mounds View, Stillwater and Cretin-Derham Hall.
The change also brings added significance to this year's graduation ceremonies. No class rankings means there will be no more valedictorians, either. This year's speakers, as a result, will be closing out a tradition.