Class Rank Weighs Down True Learning by Thomas R. Guskey

Is Our Purpose to Select or Develop?

  • At the heart of this article is the question: Is our purpose as a teachers to select or to develop talent. Guskey sees no in-between here. If you are selecting talent, you need to work to maximize the differences among students so they can be easily sorted. The last thing you want are lots of students with the same score. The best way to maximize differences is poor teaching. This works as some students will direct their own learning and achieve at high levels regardless of what the teacher does.
  • If you decide to develop talent, you first specify what you want students to be able to learn and do. With those goals in mind you do everything possible to get all students to your desired end. If you succeed, there should be little or no variation in assessment scores. This is what standards-based learning is all about, but it doesn’t mean that you treat all students the same. (Doug: Nor does it mean that you should expect all students to be on the same pace.)

Why Class Rank?

  • So rank ordering is all about selecting talent, and each school has there own rules of the game. Since only the students near the top of the heap get a self-esteem boost from this practice, it may serve to diminish motivation for many. Many defend this practice as necessary for college admission, but one study shows that only 19% of colleges give class rank considerable importance. Admissions officers see class rank as a fuzzy measure of student quality. This is due to the difference of student populations between schools, and variations in how it is calculated. GPAs at rich schools don’t carry the same meaning as GPAs from poor schools. Colleges also see that GPAs encourage some to take less rigorous classes and fewer classes.
  • Some states use GPAs to promote diversity in lieu of laws that no longer permit affirmative action. A state university can accept a specific percentage of top graduates from each school in the state. This helps students from poor schools, but can result in the acceptance of students who aren’t prepared for success. Some selective colleges have an interest in ranking as it allows the high schools to select talent for them.
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