Ranking students is a lazy way to measure academic success

Ranking students is a lazy way to measure academic success

By Mark Williams, Alexandria

To the editor:
I was disappointed by the Times’ editorial (“Competition avoidance: not the right lesson at T.C.,” December 13) concerning class rankings at T.C. Williams. Eliminating student-by-student class rankings at T.C. will not do college-record — or other — damage to the highest-performing students and will help all students in the average and above-average cohorts of every class. T.C. can, and likely will, always offer special graduation honors to top seniors without deviating from a no-ranking policy.

At schools that engage in strict, ordinal rankings, it typically is superficially assumed that only a fixed number or percentage of students were optimally ready for demanding college programs. Colleges are free to use class ranks to automatically exclude otherwise-promising applicants from fair consideration. And it is perceived, at these high schools, that the faculty and administration should concentrate efforts on only a small slice of each junior and senior class.

Ordinal class rankings are no longer used by many of the better-ranked colleges. Rigid, ordinal, student-by-student class rankings invite college admissions officers, union apprentice instructors, military recruiters and the general public to conclude that, somehow, a statistical majority of each graduating class is below some arbitrary par value and has somehow failed.

An individual student’s grade point average, course selections, transcript, recommendations and, very importantly, SAT/SATII/ACT scores will help guide colleges to students — and students to colleges. A grade-point-average delta of only a fraction of a percentage point should never make the difference if we really want all T.C. students to do well.

Alexandria City Public Schools should not be in the business of documenting minutiae against the interests of all of its best and most hopeful kids.