By Bob Skolnik
Class rank will be eliminated at Riverside-Brookfield High in three years. On Sept. 8 the District 208 Board of Education voted 6 to 1 to eliminate class rank beginning with the class of 2024, this year's freshman class.
That means the current sophomore class will be the last class in which the top 10 students in the class will be recognized at graduation with medals.
After 2023, instead of precisely ranking students by their grade-point averages, RBHS will adopt the so-called Latin system of honors used at many colleges. Students who graduate with a GPA of 3.0 to 3.49 will graduate cum laude (with honors), students with a GPA of 3.5 to 3.99 will graduate magna cum laude (with high honors) and students with GPAs of 4.0 and above would graduate summa cum laude (with highest honors).
All honors graduates would receive medals at graduation with cum laude graduates receiving bronze medals, magna cum laude graduates receiving silver medals and summa graduates receiving gold medals.
At the Sept. 8 school board meeting Principal Hector Freytas estimated that, based on recent numbers, about 60 percent of a graduating class would receive a medal by graduating with some type of honors.
In ditching class rank RBHS joins a many other high schools that have eliminated the practice in recent years, including Lyons Township High School, which eliminated class rank in 2014, New Trier High School, Oak Park and River Forest High School, Morton High School and many other Chicago suburban high schools.
Those who favor eliminating class rank argue that it promotes needless competition and gamesmanship among students as they vie to reach or stay in the top 10 of the class. Proponents of eliminating class rank also say that class rank also hurts minority students.
"Historically, class rank contributes to the disenfranchisement of Black and Brown students," Freytas said at the meeting.
Freytas said RBHS does a good job with top students and students with great needs but needs to do better with the broad middle group of students.
"We move that middle group by creating a standard that recognizes academic achievement," Freytas said.
Freytas and others who favored eliminating class rank said that very few colleges even look at or care about class rank these days.
"It's just not that important to college admissions anymore," Freytas said.
School board member Laura Hruska cast the only vote against eliminating class rank.
"I think to lose the top 10 is a great loss, a great loss to the tradition of the school," Hruska said, adding that the very best students deserve to be recognized.
"We recognize excellence in our society all the time," Hruska said.
Hruska also addressed the argument that class rank is unfair to minority students.
"We've had several Latino students in the top 10 in the last few years," Hruska said.
Last year's valedictorian was Ricardo Linares, and the top ranked student in the Class of 2021 is his cousin, Isabella Linarez.
Lily Adlesick, a student representative to the school board who currently ranks in the top 10 of the senior class, pleaded with the school board to keep class rank.
Adlesick, who said that she was also speaking for friends and classmates who favored keeping class rank, said that top-ranked students take multiple Advanced Placement courses and deserve to be recognized for their hard work.
"I can graduate with the same honors as someone who took no honors or AP classes." Adlesick said of the new Latin honors plan. "And that is just not right."
After the meeting, Adlesick said she and fellow student representative to the school board, Michael Ciszewski, had met with Freytas about class rank and were relieved that class rank will at least remain for her class and the current sophomores and juniors.
Superintendent Kevin Skinkis did not weigh in much during the debate, except to note that many other high schools have already eliminated class rank.
"There has to be a reason why we're one of the last schools doing it," Skinkis said.