Ranked for success

GPA competition creates unhealthy academic environment


Kaylee Aguilar

Students at Coppell High School and across the nation are put under heavy, often unnecessary stress, when ranked within their grade. Many high schools, including CHS, have moved away from a comprehensive class ranking system.

Nicholas Pranske, Staff Writer

From celebrity haircuts to best-selling novels, people are obsessed with ranking, listing and every other form of ordering. However, when this obsession is translated into the classroom, problems start to arise.


Every year in thousands of schools across America, students wait in anticipation for class ranks to be released. Class ranks are a mathematically configured listing of all the students of a grade in order from best to worst grade point average.


The student with the best GPA, or highest rank, is the valedictorian. The second-ranked student is known as the salutatorian.


With the release of these ranks, students instantly become more competitive, stressed and even jealous of their classmate’s ranks. In fact, it is fairly common to see students stop having active social lives outside of school or just lose friends altogether because of the added stress.


Because of the competitive drive that is associated with ranks, many students would rather stay home and study than hang out with their friends.


“[Students] have to get rest and have some fun in life. They can’t spend all their time on school,” Coppell High School lead counselor Debbie Fruithandler said.


People often associate ranks with cheating, which, in essence, is true. After being given knowledge of where they stand in the class, many students will cheat their way up the ranks.


Despite this, there are upsides to the ranking system. Many colleges, such as the University of Texas at Austin, have an automatic acceptance policy for the top seven percent of each high school’s graduating class. By releasing class ranks, high schools give many students the chance of admission into a top college.


“There’s a little bit of a misconception,” Fruithandler said. “[The ranking system] has helped our learners more than they know.”


In addition, class ranks are a good way of keeping rigor in the classroom. After all, a little competition never hurt anybody, right?


Well, not always; there is a fine line between healthy competition and flat-out cheating. Being pitted against one’s classmates often causes students to overload their schedule, creating stress for the student that would not necessarily be there without the ranking system. This, more often than not, leads to cheating within the classroom.


It is not uncommon for students to check and compare homework assignments or in-class activities with each other. In fact, many teachers even encourage this collaboration. But, all it takes is one person to forget their math homework and all of the sudden, collaboration becomes collusion and eventually out-right cheating. This is often spurred on by ranking due to the push to compete and match higher-ranked students.


But being in higher-level classes, pressured by class ranks, does not always lead to cheating. Many high-level courses (AP/IB) set students on a path of success at the college level. So in this aspect, class ranks push students to do better, giving them a competitive drive to work harder and do better.


All in all, class rankings tend to encourage cheating and other forms of academic dishonesty more than it seems to drive students to do well. Many schools, including Coppell High School, are moving away from ranking and making the right decision in doing so.


“The only place that class rank is relevant is in the state of Texas where it matters [to colleges] that you’re in the top 10 percent,” Coppell High School Principal Dr. Nicole Jund said. “GPA and… engagement in community involvement is more important.”


Coppell stopped ranking students in the class in 2010 and has since moved to just ranking the top 10 percent for college admission/scholarship purposes. 

Although ranking students can give them a competitive drive, it often causes more harm than good. Because of this, schools should move towards a schooling system that does not have ranks, but still encourages work ethic and friendly competition.

Follow Nicholas on Twitter @Nick_Pranske8