Freshmen just starting classes this month in Williamsville Central School District's three high schools will not have to fret over one number during their four years.
The School Board on Tuesday unanimously agreed to eliminate class rank for its newest freshmen and all subsequent classes. It is the only known local district to have eliminated the metric, according to the Erie County Association of School Boards.
"I think it's caused a lot of stress among students who are competing for a spot and a number, if you will, for class rank," said Superintendent Scott Martzloff. "I don't necessarily think that's healthy."
Top district administrators, including principals at the three high schools, all supported the change. Before the vote, Williamsville East High School Principal Anthony Scanzuso told the board even the highest-ranking students were in favor.
"Hands down, class rank is really something that is not all that supported at East High School, even though it's a very highly competitive academic group of kids," he said. "I think we'd be doing our student body a service by removing it."
Williamsville North High School Principal Gary Collichio and Williamsville South High School Principal Keith Boardman said their school communities, including parent groups, were also in favor of eliminating class rank.
"We think it's an antiquated way for colleges to assess how our students would do in their programs," Collichio said.
"This isn't about rank, it's about sending the right messages to students about what colleges are really looking for," Boardman added.
The district surveyed SUNY universities in Western and Central New York and found that none of them require rank to apply, and none of them penalize applicants for not including rank.
Assistant superintendents Marie Balen and Anna Cieri told the board admissions officers consider other criteria such as academic coursework rigor, scores on the SAT and ACT college entrance tests and whether a student is well-rounded in their extracurricular activities.
That’s true at Canisius College, which uses a “holistic” review of applications, including transcripts, test scores, recommendations, essays and rigor of coursework, said Justin Rogers, director of undergraduate admissions.
Students enrolled in challenging Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs especially stand out, he said.
"Those types of situations tend to be the best indicators for us and class rank is part of what we look at but it doesn't make or break a student's application," Rogers told The Buffalo News.
Board members had considered eliminating class rank for all current high schoolers, but determined it would be unfair to students who've been ranked so far and may be striving to be valedictorian of their class.
The principals recommended phasing it in by starting with the new crop of freshmen. They also said there are plenty of other awards for academic achievement in their schools, and that students should have input on how to select speakers at graduation ceremonies in place of the traditional valedictorian speech.
Martzloff and others said graduates are increasingly competing with international students for admission to prestigious colleges and universities.
"So class rank becomes a rather meaningless number to college admissions officials and it sometimes holds kids back from getting scholarships," he said. "I think all the way around it's a positive change for our high school students."