Face off: Should schools only rank students based on academic performance?

Face off: Should schools only rank students based on academic performance?

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …

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Should students be ranked solely based off academic performance?
Photo: Shutterstock

Zachary Perez Jones, 15, South Island School

There are many benefits to ranking students by their academic performance, for students and teachers alike. For one thing, ranking students this way allows teachers put students of similar ability in the same class or group. Students usually perform best when they work alongside others who are similarly able. It prevents one person from having to take responsibility for the rest of the group, or from having to explain concepts that the others may not understand. It also ensures no one is left struggling and unable to keep up. Students can help and bring out the  best in each other.

Similarly, ranking students by ability also allows teachers to help students who are struggling by providing extra support, whether by spending more time with them during lessons or by providing supplementary learning materials. Teachers can also provide more challenging work to high-achieving students to ensure that they are being stretched to their full potential.

Dividing classes by ability definitely improves efficiency, as teachers can tailor lessons to the specific needs of each class. They can take more time to go through foundational work when teaching groups of struggling students, and in classes with high-performing students, they can move through the curriculum faster, or introduce extracurricular ideas and topics. This ensures that students feel neither left behind, nor held back.

Finally, ranking students by ability can motivate them to work harder. Sometimes students need to see where they place academically so that they know which areas they need to improve in.

This also allows them to set specific and realistic goals in terms of what they would like to achieve in the future.

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Teresa Kwok, 15, South Island School

Teachers tend to think that ranking students by their academic performance is a good thing, as it helps them gauge certain students’ needs, and encourages students to work harder. However, this is wrong. 

Firstly, we should think about how this ranking may affect students on a psychological level. When a student receives a bad grade, they may on the one hand be motivated to work harder to achieve a better grade next time. But, on the other hand, their confidence will likely be diminished, and this may discourage them from trying harder in the future. In the end, they may get another bad grade. As this cycle goes on, the student will fall into the mindset that they cannot improve. 

The reverse outcome in this scenario is that students put themselves under unhealthy amounts of pressure to keep doing better. High-achieving students tend to be pitted against one another, which can lead to a hostile class environment and is harmful to their mental health. 

Ranking students by their class performance is also not as effective as just giving them their predicted exam grades. Students who rank highly in class usually expect to be top scorers in exams, but this isn’t always the case. Predicted grades show students their true ability and give them clear, realistic goals.

But perhaps worst of all, ranking students shifts focus away from what’s really important: the joy of learning. It pushes students to spend all their time revising and doing practice questions instead of exploring new ideas and gaining new knowledge. As the cycle goes on, students becomes fixated on their ranking, and forget that school is supposed to be enriching. In that case, what is the point of studying?

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