Opinion: Abolish class rank at Hamden High School

Hamden High School graduates wait inside the school's gymnasium before commencement exercises on June 22, 2022.

Hamden High School graduates wait inside the school's gymnasium before commencement exercises on June 22, 2022.

Arnold Gold/Hearst Connecticut Media

Class rank must be abolished at Hamden High School. The entire system is flawed. Based on recent decisions, the administrators charged with fixing it are only making the system worse.

The issue of class rank at Hamden High became an acute concern in June when we, 11th graders at the time, discovered a problem using our grade point average calculator. We immediately gathered a group of worried students to meet with school administrators to point out the detrimental effect this would have on class rank. GPA, the determinant of class rank, would be heavily impacted by whether students took required gym classes during the school year or the summer. For students in honors and AP level classes, gym can bring their GPA down. For other students, a good grade in gym can help their GPA. But gym does not factor into GPA at all for students who take it over the summer. 

As explained in a Sept. 19 New Haven Register article, we even offered an equitable solution that would protect the integrity of the ranking system. Since class rank had not yet been finalized — that happens in 12th grade — no one’s GPA or rank would have dropped with our proposal. Over the months that followed, parents, teachers, school administrators, Board of Education members and Superintendent Gary Highsmith himself agreed that our solution made mathematical and logical sense. So we were astonished when our solution wasn’t even voted upon at the Sept. 20 Board of Education meeting due to vague “legal considerations.” If an equitable solution cannot be implemented, then class rank must be removed. 

The idea of removing class rank is not new and many school systems have already taken this step. The National Association of Secondary School Principals offers many alternatives to class rank and about 40 percent of high schools do not report it to colleges. School systems that have removed class rank have done so for many different reasons. With students at the top of the class separated by as little as thousandths of a point, ranking is pointless. Ranking only serves to make a few students stand out to colleges at the expense of everyone else. Class rank creates an environment where students compete against each other, while teachers emphasize the opposite: collaborative learning and cooperation. Class rank favors students who take advantage of the system rather than taking classes that genuinely interest them. 

To be fair, Hamden High School does not report class rank to colleges. However, they do report decile ranks, distribute 11th grade awards closely tied to rank, hold a ceremony to recognize the top 10 students, and name a valedictorian and salutatorian who are celebrated at graduation and are eligible for exclusive scholarships. To say that Hamden High School does not actually rank students ignores many private and public displays that suggest otherwise.

Some of the issues we have outlined are longstanding, but what is new in Hamden is that the solution the Board of Education approved on Sept. 20 will actually make the situation worse. Instead of implementing an equitable solution that would fix the problem for both current and future students, the board decided that “all PE courses taken from this point forward are not calculated towards weighted GPA.” Their solution addresses the problem for future students but exacerbates the problem for current students. With their change, students like us who have already completed our gym requirements will be at a further disadvantage because even more students will now see gym omitted from GPA calculations. At the same time, students who benefit from gym grades to help their GPAs no longer see that gain, a problem that our school social worker John Hanna anticipated as explained in a Sept. 21 New Haven Register article.

It appears that the Board of Education did not holistically consider the downsides of its solution. We would have informed members, but there was no opportunity for public comment; the solution was proposed and discussed in a closed-door meeting. After their decision, Board of Education members praised us for our hard work and advocacy, but we would have preferred them to actually listen to us and include us in discussing their solution.

Why did the board dismiss our solution that they agreed was simple, fair and equitable? The superintendent worried that any retroactive change would “fail to meet our obligation to provide notice to students and families who will be negatively impacted,” depriving “due process” to the small number of students who benefited from the original policy error. Instead of doing the right thing, they have opted for a solution that will immediately make the ranking system even more unfair for many students, and guarantee that the problem continues for the next three years. We ask them, where is the due process for the hundreds of students this affects?

Since the Board of Education is unable to implement an equitable solution, and class ranking at Hamden High School will now be even less of an indication of a student’s academic performance, the ranking system should be removed immediately. Anything less undermines the hard work we and our classmates have put in for the past three years.

Nayan Talwalkar and Weihao Lin are 12th grade students at Hamden High School.