Class Rankings

As you can imagine, I spend a great deal of time reviewing education articles and research. However, last month when I read a piece titled Class Rankings Deserve Retention, I did something that I almost never do — I posted a public comment on the article’s page. The author’s point of view obviously struck a nerve, and I felt compelled to share an alternate perspective. You can read the original article here, and below is my response to the author:

Walt, I respectfully have to disagree with this post. At Challenge Success, a non-profit organization associated with Stanford University Graduate School of Education,, we work with schools to increase engagement with learning and improve student mental health and well-being. We see a majority of students at high-achieving schools who feel high levels of stress that are associated with sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, and suicide ideation. We have found that eliminating valedictorian status and class rankings has reduced stress at certain schools — especially those where achievement in the form of grades and test scores and college admission rates is valued above all other traits. Students at these high-achieving schools can be ranked in the bottom quartile even with excellent grade point averages, and consequently feel “dumb” and “less worthy” compared to the majority of their peers. These students not only suffer from stress, but also may become disengaged with school altogether. Other students calculate the exact GPA needed to “beat” their peers for valedictorian status, and may sleep 2-3 hours each night and compromise their health — and sometimes their values (cheating rates are typically high in these kind of schools) in order to win that title. We are not against evaluating students, and we are certainly not against having high standards, rigorous curricula, and holding students accountable. We don’t believe everyone deserves a trophy, but we have seen the problems associated with a ranking system, and have urged schools to consider other ways to honor their top students — ways that rely less on a grade point average and that are more similar to the MVP status on a sports team- where multiple skills and traits are valued.

If you know schools that honor students in creative and healthy ways instead of using rankings and GPA’s, let us know. We are always collecting positive examples to share.

Denise Pope, PhD


Denise Pope, Ph.D., is a Co-Founder of Challenge Success and a Senior Lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, where she specializes in student engagement, curriculum studies, qualitative research methods, and service learning.  She is the author of, “Doing School”: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students, and co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids. Dr. Pope lectures nationally on parenting techniques and pedagogical strategies to increase student health, engagement with learning, and integrity. She is a 3-time recipient of the Stanford University School of Education Outstanding Teacher and Mentor Award and was honored with the 2012 Education Professor of the Year “Educators’ Voice Award” from the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences.