Superintendent to have final say on class rank

BY JAY BODAS Staff Writer

Staff Writer

METUCHEN — School officials here are debating whether to continue the practice of ranking students by their academic performance.

The district currently determines class rank at the end of grades 10, 11 and 12. The information is turned over to colleges, said longtime Metuchen High School Principal John Novak.

“I have witnessed a negative, destructive side to class rank, and I once strongly recommended to eliminate valedictorian and salutatorian designations as well as class rank,” Novak said.

But he has since changed his mind and now supports class rankings.

“Since then, I have not seen any negative effects of class rank, and I believe it serves more as a motivator than as a negative influence,” he said at the June 7 Board of Education meeting, where the board held a discussion on the issue of class rank.

Some school districts in New Jersey have eliminated class rank, while others have chosen to keep it, said Superintendent of Schools Terry Sinatra.

“I sent a letter to all parents letting them know there would be an informational session this evening, and I have met with parents twice on this topic,” she said.

Novak discussed the results of a study done on the Metuchen High School class of 2004 to determine the effect of class rank on college admissions.

“It appears that class rank was not used as an excluding factor by the more competitive schools, and at this time, I am not inclined to recommend a change in our ranking procedures,” he said.

Interim guidance director Sandra DeLuca stressed that class rank was just one of many factors used by colleges in making admissions decisions.

“The importance of class rank is being diminished,” she said. “Class rank is being fast overtaken by the college essay, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities and the student’s interest in the college.”

Four out of five public schools report class rank, while one out of five private schools do so, with 61 percent of all high schools reporting class rank overall, she said.

“Do not eliminate class rank if the goal is solely to admit more students to selective colleges,” DeLuca said. “Eliminate it only if we want to make a statement that this is who we are and how we want to operate.”

Metuchen High School students had mixed feelings on the issue.

“I hate the idea this township could be accepting mediocrity,” said senior Jeff Ostermueller. “The elite should be awarded with the knowledge that they are at the top, and I support class rank.”

Sam Champain, a junior, agreed.

“I think people in the top 10 percent deserve the benefit of being able to say this on their transcript,” he said.

Anthony Campisi, a senior, supports considering the elimination class rank.

“Seeing all the different colleges, they explained to me how they rejected so many valedictorians and salutatorians, and my impression is that they do not really take class rank into huge consideration relative to the whole person,” he said.

“I am not sure how much class rank furthers the idea of helping us to find the best people, and I can’t figure out exactly why we would want to keep it,” Campisi said.

Board of Education members William McGuire Jr. and George Trapp argued in favor of keeping class rank.

“Our world is very competitive, and class rank should be reported to colleges,” McGuire said. “Taking it away will lessen our approach to education.”

Trapp said the district should keep class rank, unless there was evidence that the practice hurts students’ admissions to colleges.

“In my career, I have spent a lot of time trying to convince managers to identify and recognize our top 5 percent performers,” Trapp said. “So, if we tend to gloss over that and do not do rankings, I think we are just fooling ourselves.”

There are still questions to consider before making a decision on the issue, Sinatra said.

“If we were to eliminate class rank, one question is, when would we start this practice?” she said. “I would find it difficult to eliminate it for students who already know their class rank. And would we still have a valedictorian or salutatorian?”

Sinatra will make the final decision, after consulting with other school officials, said board secretary Michael Harvier.