Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

Aren’t Students More than Just a Number?

by Amanda Wilcox and Kelly Townsend, guest bloggers

As high school students in 2014, we can’t escape the impact that numbers have on our own and others’ perceptions of our success.  We repeatedly refresh PowerSchool [the online gradebook] to check our grade averages, we strive for that perfect 2400 on the SAT, and we cross our fingers for a 5 on every AP exam and a Pass Advanced on every SOL.  All of our hard work ultimately leads to a number that theoretically defines our high school success: a class ranking.  However, our success is more than just a number, and shouldn’t be treated as such.  The high school class ranking system is deeply flawed and should be changed so that students’ success is more accurately reflected.

Imagine spending four years managing a rigorous AP or DE course load and spending sleepless nights studying for a never-ending parade of quizzes and tests.  When it comes time to find out your class ranking, you look eagerly at your transcript.  Despite your hard work and good grades, there are nine people and only 0.00001 points between you and the valedictorian.

mortarboardsUnfortunately, too many students find themselves in this situation.  How can T.C. Williams declare one student superior to another when their GPAs differ by a mere fraction of a point?  After all, differences in GPAs in the top 10% of a high school class are often minute.  “It’s not a ranking of a student’s potential—it’s a ranking of how you stack up against other members of your class,” said Director of School Counseling Gregory Forbes.  The competition and pressure to stay ahead of the crowd can discourage students from taking classes without a GPA boost, such as band or art.  Students may also take more AP or DE classes than they can truly handle purely for the GPA boost that they receive if they pass.  “[The class ranking system] is biased towards students taking more AP courses over other students who may be taking two languages,” said sophomore Thomas Conger.  Students making mediocre grades in AP classes may have a higher class ranking than students excelling in honors or fine arts classes.

Additionally, the class ranking system creates an unhealthy competition among grade-obsessed high school students (and their parents).  Students angling for a higher class ranking may study around the clock in order to earn the highest grade possible, instead of simply learning for the pure enjoyment of it.  Shouldn’t Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) be fostering a love of learning in its students?  In addition, students may not participate in extracurriculars or service projects in their community simply because their time is filled with their round-the-clock study schedule. The fact that the class ranking system encourages students to pursue decimal point increases in GPA, instead of a passion, does not meet our school division’s objective of educating the “whole child.”

Moreover, says Forbes, most colleges don’t base their admissions decisions heavily upon class rank.  “Schools want to see well-rounded students.  Ranking gets in the way of that.” Rank-crazed students may not take classes that they are passionate about, and may instead take classes that promise a GPA boost. This deficit of passion and breadth caused by the ranking system may actually hurt students in the college application process. “[A class ranking] doesn’t tell a college anything about you,” added Forbes.

However, the good news is that T.C. doesn’t have to use a class ranking system.  Many schools around the country, and in the Northern Virginia area, do not use a class ranking system.  Instead, schools such as Arlington’s Yorktown High School gather data about the percentages of students who fall between certain grade point averages.  These grade point distributions allow colleges to discern, using a student’s GPA, how they stack up against their fellow students without using a class rank.

Each year, T.C. produces numerous top-achieving students who go on to be successful at the most selective schools in the country, but many of those do not get the recognition that they deserve on graduation day because that honor is limited to two.  The current system focuses recognition only on the top two students among more than seven hundred, while countless other students deserve credit for their high achievement.

So what alternatives exist to a class ranking system?  Clearly, ACPS should recognize its top-achieving students.  Many schools allow the top 10% of its class to proceed into graduation first or to wear special tassels.  If ACPS chose to recognize the top 10% of the class as a whole, a lot more deserving students would be celebrated.  Additionally, students could elect a class member to represent them, or could choose to have their class president speak at graduation.  “There’s a whole host of things that we can do,” said Forbes in regards to other ways that hard-working students could be recognized.  The end of the class ranking system should not, and would not, mean the end of recognizing high-achieving students.

Given how detrimental the class ranking system is to a student’s academic success, the school system should renew its effort to move away from class rankings.  ACPS, please acknowledge that we are more than just a number.  Recognize the multi-faceted talents in all of us with a change in policy.

T.C. Williams junior Amanda Wilcox and sophomore Kelly Townsend are staff writers for Theogony, the T.C. student newspaper. This article appeared in the November 3, 2014 edition. The online version of Theogny can be found here.

Reprinted with permission.


“Fuel the Pool” to Ignite Community Enthusiasm for Chinquapin Expansion
Meet USA Swimming National Team Member Andrew Seliskar

Members of the Alexandria community and supporters of our city’s recreational programs are cordially invited to “Fuel the Pool,” the Advocates for Alexandria Aquatics (AAA) celebration to kick-off the quest for a 50-meter pool at Chinquapin Recreation Center. The event will take place at Chinquapin on Saturday, November 22, at 6:00 p.m.

Featured guest speaker Andrew Seliskar, USA Swimming 2014-2015 National Team member and national and international swimming record-holder, will talk to young swimmers and families about his swimming career as well as the importance of supporting swimming in our community and building 50-meter pools. He will also take questions from the audience and sign autographs.

Remarks will also be given by Congressman Jim Moran (invited), Mayor Bill Euille (invited), Alexandria City Council Member John Chapman and Bill Rivers, chair of AAA.



Categories: Uncategorized

1 reply


  1. Rule 5 Friday: Art, Getaways, Giveaways, and More | Red Brick Town