Class rank: a broken system

For those who do not remember, or don’t know at all, CHCCS students take a math exam in the fifth grade that determines their eligibility for participation in an accelerated math track throughout middle and high school. Score in the 95th percentile or higher, and a student begins taking advanced math classes earlier than their peers, in turn allowing their high school GPA (and class rank) to rise.

Throughout CHCCS, this practice warps class ranks. As detailed
in a letter that the district has distributed — though not widely so — via email, CHCCS class rankings have an outsize dependence on a student’s math courses. This letter itself was written by former Carrboro Principal Dr. Laverne Mattocks.

In the letter, CHCCS’s class rank inadequacies are detailed: “By beginning high school courses in middle school, students on the accelerated pathways often complete additional advanced math classes in high school allowing them to potentially accumulate a higher weighted GPA than students who did [not] complete high school courses in middle school,” said Mattocks.

This system of sorting students into accelerated and non-accelerated math tracks splits them into two sections. One section is inherently restricted in their possible class rank and GPA achievements, while the other gets a head start on building a strong academic profile.

The manifestation of this effect is as follows: any student who did not gain admission to the accelerated math track in middle school is at an inherent disadvantage when it comes to their high school GPA and class rank.

How much of a disadvantage? Those students who did not take advanced courses in middle school and who continue on the standard math track in high school are unlikely, according to CHS parent Joy Diamond-Speer, to score a GPA high enough to put them in the top 30 percent of their class

Just let that sink in for a second.

The result of one math test, which students took in their final year of elementary school, is the determinant of whether or not they are easily able to achieve a class rank in the top 30 percent through all four years of their high school careers.

Not only does this class-ranking fallacy feed into the endemic achievement gap that CHCCS struggles with, it also disadvantages an even larger sect of students: those for whom math is not a strong subject.

This article is a challenging one for me to write, as I’m a student who has excelled at Carrboro High. I’m also seemingly anomalous when it comes to class rank; I was not a part of the accelerated math track, yet I have worked hard and achieved a top-tier rank.

The only way I was able to achieve that, though, was because I took advantage of something of a oddity in the math courses at CHS: Math III-PC. This means that I took Math III and Precalculus in a single course, which is something that currently entails a double period of math in a student’s schedule.

All of this is to say that achieving a top-tier class rank at CHCCS is already of outsize difficulty, yet it’s all but impossible if you are not a student who excels in their math courses as early as fifth grade.

The CHCCS district has met with CHS parents, including Joy Diamond-Speer, in regards to this issue, yet they “haven’t gotten clear information on a plan to change the system moving forward,” Diamond-Speer said in an email.

Furthermore, very little is being done to help current students understand the current state of class ranking at CHCCS.

There needs to be more transparency from the district when it comes to the system behind ranking students, as well as other metrics of student achievement in high school such as GPA. It benefits administrators, teachers and the student body alike for students to understand how these things work. We students are quite used to being compared, measured and scored, but we much prefer it when we know just how those things are being metered.

Posted by Levi Hencke

Levi is a junior who likes traveling, sailing, and the Tar Heels. He was born in Denver, CO, but has lived in Chapel Hill for most of his life. CHS is the second high school he’s attended, but by far his favorite.