September 7, 2005 - High school seniors have much to deal with: grades, college applications and graduation preparation.
But this year, Catalina Foothills School District seniors will have one less worry. The school district is no longer reporting class rank to colleges and universities.
The decision was approved by the governing board at the end of last year and went into effect at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year.
The decision to eliminate class rank, which pits student against student according to grade point averages, was made after careful consideration from the counseling department at the high school, said Jay Christopher, counselor at the school.
"It becomes an inaccurate measure of a student's achievements," Christopher said.
Catalina Foothills differs from other schools because so many students are highly achieving, he said, which causes students to be compared unfairly to each other. Comparing student against student can only hurt them in the long run, he said.
According to information provided by the district, 11.4 percent of the class of 2006 has a GPA between 4.0 and 4.25. Some highly competitive colleges and universities do not consider students who are not ranked in the top five to 10 percent of the class for admittance, Christopher said. That eliminates many Catalina Foothills students from consideration. If class rank were the only criterion used for college admissions, students from another school with lower GPAs than students from Catalina Foothills could be admitted because they ranked higher in their graduating classes, which Christopher said is not fair.
Catalina Foothills School District is the first district in Pima County to eliminate class rank, Christopher said, adding that he hopes other schools soon follow suit.
In the past 10 years, many colleges and universities throughout the country have eliminated class rank as the primary means selecting new students. The National Association of College and Admissions Counselors reports that class rank is less important as a measure of admissions and that schools are choosing to base admissions on GPA.
Christopher said his school district's administration is looking out for the students by eliminating class rank. By doing so, colleges and universities are forced to look more closely at the students and the courses they completed while in school.
"It opens the door up to a lot of kids that do exceptional work," he said.
Paul Kohn, assistant vice president for admissions and financial aid at the University of Arizona, said most schools are eliminating class rank from admissions requirements. He said the move at Catalina Foothills is "not going to hurt anybody."
In previous years, UA has looked at class rank and has accepted the top 50 percent of a graduating class, Kohn said, adding that this is no longer the case. Now, only the top 25 percent are guaranteed admission to UA.
It is not a simple view of rank used by colleges and universities in deciding whether to admit a student or not, Kohn said. Admission departments throughout the country are far more stringent in viewing a particular student, he said.
"We'll be looking at everything the student brings to the table," he said, including test scores, activities, clubs, and the difficulty of the courses taken.
"All the various factors," he said.
Wagner Van Vlack, the principal at Catalina Foothills High School, said he is proud that the high school has taken a proactive step to ensure that colleges and universities begin viewing students by what they have accomplished in their high school careers, he said.
"Our primary mission is learning," he said. "It's not grade point averages, it not points, its learning."
Van Vlack remembers his days as principal of a high school in Kansas, where class rank caused numerous problems, he said. Students were highly competitive for the title of valedictorian. It would come down to a thousandth of a point, he said. Lawsuits about school handbook language regarding how to determine GPAs followed, and it was a mess, he said.
"That's absurd," he said.
By ranking student against student, Van Vlack said a school forces its students into only taking courses that are heavily weighted and increase their GPA. By doing so, students could miss out on well-rounded high school educations, he said.
"You might have a kid that would become Picasso in the future that takes no art classes for fear that the art class may not be weighted as much as a science class," he said.
And Van Vlack said that sort of schedule "jockeying" is not what high school is about.
"The message we want to send is that learning is important, not points," Van Vlack said.
Recent Catalina Foothills graduate Tyler Bosmeny is headed for his freshman year at Harvard University. He knew as a graduate of the class of 2005 that there would be no crowned valedictorian - Catalina Foothills does not specify one - but, for Bosmeny and his friends, finding out how they ranked among each other was not a war among students, it was more of a joke.
"It was never really taken seriously," he said.
Students would turn it into a game to see who could find out what their ranking was among the whole senior class, he said.
Bosmeny said that, no matter what, it was all in good spirits.
Grant Gilles, senior and student body president, said he is proud of the administration for eliminating class rank.
"Rank can only punish you," he said, pointing to the number of highly performing students within the district.
Gilles said the administration is looking out for students.
"I really like that they've done that," he said, adding that eliminating class rank will ensure that animosity and competition is cut out of the senior class.