It was found recently that George Washington University’s data that 78% of the incoming first-year students were in the top 10% of their high school class was false. GW had only estimated this percentage. In fact, many of the high school students accepted had not even been ranked by their high schools. An internal investigation revealed that the 78% figure was really 22%.
GW is not the only college that uses estimations of class rank. The reason is high school class ranks are becoming more and more unreliable for various reasons. In some schools in California, for example, more than half the class is in the top 9 %, while in other schools only a handful are in the top 9%. Some high schools even have multiple valedictorians these days. Why?
• One reason is a compilation of demographics, location, and competitiveness. Some high-powered schools have many students who are go-getters, while weaker schools’ students have little aspiration for grades.
• Another reason is the proliferation of AP classes. High schools will give more weight to AP grades, which skews the class rank unfairly.
• Another reason is some schools are no longer giving grades for their class work.
• And, a final reason is private schools can skew class ranks because paying parents do not expect their student to be in anything but the top 10%.
Class rank used to be a fairer measure than grades. While one “A” did not always equal another, at least admissions officers could compare how a student did in his or her class with class ranking. But, because of all of the above, some colleges are no longer using class rank, and others place very low importance on class rank. It is found that grade point averages calculated against the rigor of the classes taken, although a long and tedious process, is a better indication of a student’s success at the college level. Some are even calling for U.S. News and World Report to drop class rank as a factor in evaluating the selectivity of a college.