Class Rank, GPA, and Grading

Purpose: To provide recommendations for the appropriate use of class rank, grade point average (GPA), and grading for the purpose of measuring and comparing student academic achievement and to promote fairness and equity in college admission procedures.

Issue: Efforts to improve the academic achievement of all students and to prepare each and every student for postsecondary education and training have rendered past methods of sorting and comparing students obsolete.

School leaders, parents, and school boards are concerned that small differences in grade point averages could lead to large differences in class rank, which could hurt student prospects for admission, and have increasingly sought to stop reporting class rank. Research indicates that up to 50% of schools no longer report class rank.

Currently, however, there are conflicting trends relating to the reporting of class rank. As schools and districts moved to eliminate class rank and sought to increase the number of students admitted to competitive state colleges and universities, some state lawmakers—most notably in Texas and California—passed statutes requiring that students be admitted to state universities on the basis of class rank. These statutes reflect a desire to increase the diversity of students who attend state universities and to open enrollment at state universities to a wider range of individual schools across a state.

For example, more than half of the students at the University of Texas–Austin were granted admission based on their class rank in 2004. Under that state admissions policy, the number of different high schools within the state sending students to the University of Texas has also risen dramatically. Previously, students from low-performing, high-poverty, mostly urban schools had difficulty gaining admission to competitive universities. It appears that using class rank as one factor for admission to competitive colleges does increase diversity and results in a wider range of high schools sending students to those universities.

The current use of student grade point average to calculate class rank has limited value in admissions to college because it can only show how a student compares with others at a particular school.

Colleges and universities have responded by developing their own systems of ranking students and calculating projected class ranks. In addition, a number of universities recalculate student grade point averages by either adding or removing weighting to college-level courses or calculating a grade point average based solely on core academic courses.

NASSP Guiding Principles

  • Schools should hold high expectations for all students and should promote academic excellence for each and every student, not just a select few.
  • All students should graduate from high school with the knowledge and skills to help them succeed in postsecondary education and the workplace.
  • To be able to prosper in an interdependent world, each student should acquire a body of essential knowledge and skills, including literacy and math skills. To this end, schools should encourage students to assume a well-rounded, rigorous, and challenging course of study that consists of core academic courses as well as a variety of elective courses.
  • Common standards, high-quality assessments, and valid comparisons of student progress are needed to measure what students know and are able to do.
  • Common core standards as well as common standards of measurement for recording student progress in high school should be developed to enable valid comparisons between students in different schools across the country.
  • Schools should encourage and recognize academic excellence in a spirit of cooperation, not intense competition that sets one student against another.
  • Grading policies and practices reflect the culture of the school.
  • Grading policies directly impact the delivery of instruction.
  • School leaders should implement a framework, such as those provided by the Breaking Ranks school improvement series, for improving the performance of each student that supports best practices through collaborative leadership and professional learning communities; creates relevance through personalizing the environment; and addresses issues of rigor through curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Recommendations

When making decisions regarding grading, grade point average, and the use of class rank, school leaders should take into consideration the context in which their school operates including state laws, college and university admission requirements, community attitudes, and what best meets the needs of the students.

Grading

  • Grades should be an accurate measure of course mastery and of what students know and are able to do when compared to a set of agreed upon standards.
  • Grading practices should encourage and motivate students and should not be punitive in nature.
  • Particular attention should be paid to grading practices related to homework, which should be viewed as an independent practice.
  • Students learn at different rates and should be given the time and assistance they need to master course content.

Grade Point Average
School policies and practices relating to the formulation of a student grade point average should:

  • Include all courses completed by the student
  • Include all high school level courses including those taken while in middle school. (Examples would include Algebra I and World Language courses.)
  • Be an accurate reflection of academic rigor
  • Contribute to a valid comparison of class rank
  • Include provisions for transfer students.

When considering the weighting of grades, schools should ensure that:

  • Weighted courses differ substantially in their level of academic challenge
  • All students are encouraged to take a more rigorous course of study and be appropriately recognized for doing so
  • Weighted grades are not used to sort students and determine who receives recognition
  • Students are not discouraged from taking nonweighted courses
  • Weighting of course grades should be applied only to externally moderated courses such as AP, IB, or dual-enrollment courses, in which it is possible to ensure the content and quality of course content between schools and among individual teachers.
  • The decision to weight grades should be accompanied by open enrollment policies in all externally moderated courses including AP, IB, and dual-enrollment courses. The failure to do so:
    1. Stratifies student opportunity
    2. Represents a new form of tracking
    3. Creates competition for scarce resources
    4. Disadvantages schools that are able to offer few AP or IB courses.
  • Students receiving weighted credit should be required to complete the course and to complete the summative assessment.

Class Rank

  • A system of class rank should not carry with it an underlying assumption that academic success is a scarce commodity available only to a select few students.
  • Class rank should be cumulative. The rank should include all courses taken by the student and should not be limited to a select few core courses. In addition, class rankings should include all students within a given class.
  • The system of calculating class rank should allow students to improve through persistence and hard work and should ensure that the success of one student should not be at the expense of another student.
  • Alternatives to reporting class rank include but are not limited to the following:
    1. Grade distribution of the class including the range and median grade point average
    2. Estimated rank
    3. Ranking of core courses only
    4. Reporting of AP results.

Resources

Attewell, P. (2001, October). The winner-take-all high school: Organizational adaptations to educational stratification. ProQuest Education Journals, 74(4), 267–295.

Bracey, G. W. (2002, May). Stratification among the haves. Phi Delta Kappan, 8(9). 656–67.

Cognard, A. M. (1996). The case of weighting grades and waiving classes for gifted and talented high school students. (ED429290). Storrs, CT: National Resource Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.

Cohn, E., Cohn, S., Balch, D., & Bradley, J. (2004, December). Determinants of undergraduate GPAs: SAT scores, high-school GPA and high-school rank. Economics of Education Review, 23(6), 577–586.

Doggett, M. (1988, April). Higher standards, new incentives: Justice for valedictorians. NASSP Bulletin, 53–61.

Espenshade, T., Hale, L, & Chung, C. (2005). The frog pond revisited: High school academic context, class rank, and elite college admission. ProQuest Education Journals, 78(4) 269–293.

Ferkenhoff, E. (2006, July 10). How schools are pulling rank. Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1212168,00.html

Finder, A. (2006, May 5). Schools Avoid Class Ranking, Vexing Colleges. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/05/education/05rank.html

Fischer, K. (2005). Class-rank plan faces trouble in Texas. The Chronicle of High Education, 51(33), A25. Retrieved from http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?index=0&did=844366251

Gewertz, C. (2008, October 1). Some fear proposal would discourage students from taking rigorous classes. Education Week.

Gilman, D. & Swan, E. (1989, March). Solving G.P.A. and class rank problems. NASSP Bulletin, 91–97.

Hebel, S. (2003). “Percent plans” don’t add up. Chronicle of Higher Education. 49(28), A22–A26.

Imber, J. (2002). The problem with grading. American School Board Journal. 189(6). 40–41, 47.

Kuncel, N. R., Crede, M., & Thomas, L. L. (2005, Spring). The validity of self-reported grade point averages, class ranks, and test scores: A meta-analysis and review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 75(1), 63–82.

Lang, D. (2007, Spring). Class rank, gpa and valedictorians: How high schools rank students. ProQuest Education Journals, 35(2), 36–48.

Lang, D.M. (1997, Summer). Accurate and fair class ranks: One step closer with the class rank index. ERS Spectrum. 15(3), 26–29.

Levy, J. & Riordan, P. (1994). Rank-in-class, grade point average, and college admissions. (ED370988). Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Lockhart, E. (1990, Winter). Heavy grades? A study on weighted grades. Journal of College Admissions, 126, 9–16.

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Nemecek, P. M. (1994). Constructing weighted grading systems. Clearing House. 67(6). 325–26.

Ramirez, E. (2009, October). More high schools consider eliminating class rankings. U.S. News &World Report.

Rice, S. & Ebmeier, H. (2002). Differentially weighting high school grades: A critique from the perspective of social justice. Journal of School Leadership, 12(3), 305–16.

Rutledge, B. (1991, Fall). An alternative to ranking high school students. Journal of College Admission, 133, 5–6.

Sadler, P., & Tai, R. (2007, March). Weighting for recognition: Accounting for advanced placement and honors courses when calculating high school grade point average. NASSP Bulletin, 5–32. doi:10.1177/0192636506298726

Sakelaris, N. (2009), August 26). Carroll looks at eliminating class rankings for most. Southlake Journal.

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Wilson, D. (1999). Grades, diplomas and transcripts for students with disabilities. (ED434447). Des Moines, IA: Iowa Department of Education, Bureau of Children Family and Community Services.

Zlatos, B. (2008, November 28). High school class rank loses luster. Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved from https://triblive.com/

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Adopted March 11, 2010