Percentile Problem: Is the absence of class rank at LFHS the best policy for students?


Bobby Winebrenner

Sitting down with Ms. Stetson, a counselor here at Lake Forest, in the midst of a conversation about the topic of class rank, Mr. Naughton, another long tenured counselor of the school, walked into the counselor’s den and overheard the back and forth discussion. He instantly mentioned, “Class Rank? We haven’t had that in years! Has to be at least 20.” Which answered my first question: When did Lake Forest High School get rid of class rank? But my second question–why the school decided to get rid of the ranking system–proved to be a much more interesting discussion.

Lake Forest has been unique with their long term absence from utilizing class rank to classify their students based on academic standing. Some think that the academic competition can improve one’s desire to succeed, but at a school like Lake Forest–where academic, social and athletic competition is already intense–is it really worth it? At this exceptional public school, students are already under academic pressure from their parents, as well as their own intrinsic motivation to succeed. Whether it be through an outstanding GPA, high standardized test scores, or the prestige of certain colleges one’s applying to, many factors contribute to the competition that occurs within the walls at 1285 McKinley Road. That pressure can lead to unnecessary stress and worry in the lives of the already busy, fretful students.

But at the same time, this academic competition can drive students to improve their grade point averages and test scores. For example, ranking at 53 could motivate one to increase their second semester grades and enter into the top 50, which is a big reason why many high schools still use this procedure, as an incentive motivator for their students. Also, colleges ask for a class rank when a student’s applying for scholarships to see if a student ranks in a certain percentile quota in order to match scholarship requirements.

Under that same lens contributes a main reason to the omission of rank at Lake Forest. Ms. Stetson offered that “Class Rank hurts students at Lake Forest, its absence is kid friendly in the way it helps us to not have it.” Inside the halls of such a competitive school, a ranking near the 50th percentile could degrade a student’s quality when looking at their application.

“I don’t care who’s first, second, or third. Those things don’t matter as much to me. We care about your character and how involved you are. Ranking kids on academics and GPA isn’t great,” said Dean of Students Mr. Frank Lesniak. Academic prestige also intrudes on the high school experience; students would dismiss taking arduous classes in order to receive an easier grade and preserve their academic status amongst the class.

In wondering if Lake Forest would ever consider bringing back the controversial stat, Ms. Stetson and Mr. Lesniak both shut that down rather quickly. “No, there’s been really no talk of it. Most schools are actually dropping it nowadays,” said Stetson. She’s right: Warren, Vernon Hills, Libertyville, New Trier, and Stevenson all dropped the class rank in the last twenty years. Stevenson shared an interesting anecdote on their webpage about the elimination; “By the late 1990s, student competition had become so intense that the school formed a task force to look for solutions. The most significant recommendations from the task force led to the end of the traditional graduation honors of valedictorian and salutatorian — which weren’t instituted at Stevenson until the late 1970s — and the elimination of class rank.” Similarly, valedictorian and salutatorian are barely even recognized at Lake Forest with neither giving a speech at graduation unlike many high schools nationwide.

Coming into this article, I held a preconceived notion that Lake Forest should bring back the ranking system. I personally thought it would increase competition and encourage students to obtain better grades, but the overwhelming arguments against it led me to change my beliefs. Lake Forest High School already has astounding students who work tirelessly for their impressive and coveted GPAs. Class rank would only increase pressure and stress for students who already face such difficulties. After leading the charge on the elimination, our absence of the discussion and the standing are both good calls for Lake Forest.