November 29, 2021

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Does Class Rank Matter to You?

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Does your school rank students? If so, what does it base its rankings on?

Do you know your own rank? How much does it matter to you? Would you be willing to go to court if you believed you deserved a higher class rank?

In “Her High School Said She Ranked Third in Her Class. So She Went to Court.,” an article from May, Rick Rojas writes about a graduate in Texas who represented herself in court, arguing that school officials made errors in tabulating grade-point averages:

Dalee Sullivan looked straight ahead into her computer’s camera and started making her case to the judge. She referred to transcripts, emails and policies she had pulled from the student handbook at Alpine High School. The school, she contended, had made errors in tabulating grade-point averages: Classes and exams that should have been included were left out, and vice versa.

Ms. Sullivan had won Lincoln-Douglas debate tournaments and, in her freshman year, was a member of the mock trial team. But she is not a lawyer. She is 18, and she graduated from the lone public high school in the small West Texas town of Alpine just a week ago, which was the reason she was in court to begin with.

“This serves to prove that no matter the outcome of the G.P.A. contest, and no matter how many times we had the school recalculate the G.P.A.,” Ms. Sullivan told the judge during a hearing on Friday, the Alpine Independent School District “was going to make certain I could never be valedictorian, even if I earned it.”

School officials said she ranked third in her class. Ms. Sullivan disagreed.

She could not find a local lawyer who would agree to take on her case. A firm in Dallas told her it would, she said, but estimated the case could cost her $75,000 — far more than she could afford. Instead, she figured out how to write a request for an injunction and represented herself in the 394th District Court of Texas.

She believed that her G.P.A. could, in fact, have been higher than one or both of the students ahead of her, making her worthy of the title salutatorian or even valedictorian. She and her parents had protested her rank for the past month, and she claimed that the school intentionally did not invite her to an awards event where top students were honored.

The school district has said that it calculated her grades repeatedly, and that each time Ms. Sullivan still ranked third.

The article continues:

In Alpine, a town of roughly 6,000 people in Texas’s Big Bend Country, some who know Ms. Sullivan said they were surprised she would take this on. There are other ways to spend one’s last summer before college. (She plans to attend the College of Charleston in South Carolina and major in biophysics with the aim of going into medicine.) But she had always been serious about school and a bit steely in her resolve.

“She’s already going to college, she already has scholarships,” said Teresa Todd, a local government lawyer who is a longtime friend of Ms. Sullivan’s mother and whose sons are close in age to Ms. Sullivan. “She worked really hard for this, and I think all kids deserve to know where they fall in the pecking order.”

“Kids have to show their work,” Ms. Todd added. “Why doesn’t the school have to show their work?”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Does class rank matter to you? Why or why not? What motivates you to work hard and succeed in school? Do you care about your G.P.A. or titles like salutatorian or valedictorian? How do you think your class rank might affect your future?

  • Does your school rank students? If so, what is the ranking based on? G.P.A.? Classes and exams? Do you think it is a fair and transparent system?

  • Do you feel your current rank in school, if you know it, is an accurate representation of your school performance to date? Why or why not?

  • What’s your reaction to the story? Do you think Dalee Sullivan was right to take her high school to court over her class rank? Why do you think the issue mattered to her so much even though she was already accepted to college with a scholarship? Do you find her argument persuasive that her final transcript is “not an accurate reflection of my high school career, so it’s already done irreparable damage”?

  • Do you think all schools should rank their students? Or should they scrap the whole process?


Want more writing prompts? You can find all of our questions in our Student Opinion column. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate them into your classroom.

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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