Montgomery County schools may no longer name valedictorian

Rank would be tossed out in favor of groupings

MONTGOMERY Co., Va. – There is some pushback in Montgomery County over the plan to stop ranking students based on GPA. It came Tuesday night at the school board work session where some families say the school division's research has it wrong.

Instead of top students, the division would place high-performing students in a top three grouping instead, composed of distinguished scholar, scholar, and honor graduate. But those who spoke up said they don't want that.

This decision is three years in the making, after much research by committees into how this would impact students. That research committee approved the suggestion unilaterally, saying naming a valedictorian is an antiquated way of doing things.

"Most school divisions now have done away with it and the vast majority of colleges no longer really consider class rank," Montgomery County Schools Director of Secondary Education Carl Pauli said. 

The College Board says more than half of high schools nationwide no longer report class rank. The school's research shows rank has become irrelevant as students game the system in class selection for better GPAs, and colleges are well aware.

"It's not a level playing field when colleges look at GPAs, let alone class rank," Pauli said. "They're not looking at all the schools doing it based on the same methodology."

Only two people offered up comments during Tuesday's public hearing, both disagreeing with the plan.

"They are saying that colleges do not look at class rank anymore, but I feel that is wrong," Auburn High School parent Deann Houseman said. "I think that weights heavy and I think it really helps with scholarships."

The school's research also suggests rank fosters an unhealthy classroom environment. Naysayers argue the opposite, saying they use rank to build each other up.

"I've pushed myself, I want to better myself, that's my motivation," Christiansburg High School junior Stepahnie Valencic said. "I don't want to be recognized with the people who slack off and aren't pushing to be the best people they can be."

The school division said removing class rank would create better outcomes for students, and the reduced pressure will help their overall education.

"The research certainly shows that it will not only reduce stress but to me most importantly students were making their course selection decisions based on what their class rank would be rather than on courses that either interest them or prepare them for their college or career," Pauli said.

School board members will take that feedback into consideration, providing a final vote in June. If it goes into effect, next year's graduating class will be the first to go without class rank.