Cursive writing

Schools in Nashua and elsewhere in the state are rethinking their approach to class rank.

NASHUA — After hearing concerns from students, school officials intend to form a task force that will study whether city high schools should maintain their existing class ranking system.

Students are choosing courses that will boost their grade point average and class rank, rather than being encouraged to enroll in classes that pique their interests and promote innovation, according to Hailey Sweeney, a senior at Nashua High School South.

Their primary goals are to become the best, and they are willing to do whatever they can to get to the top of their class, Sweeney told the Board of Education last week.

“They are cheating. They are only focusing on certain academic activities,” she said, stressing that some research indicates that class rank may not be beneficial because it does nothing to enhance a student’s sense of self worth.

Instead, Sweeney said, it fosters a competitive atmosphere.

“Many local schools, along with schools around the country, are changing how they rank their students,” she said, noting that Bedford, Hollis-Brookline and Souhegan High School are using either a tiered system or Latin system with an honor of achievement based off a predetermined GPA threshold.

In addition, Bedford High School does not announce its valedictorian and salutatorian during graduation, nor do those students conduct speeches at commencement.

Mike McQuilkin, the director of the Nashua Technology Center at Nashua High School South, said although there are 70 high school students active with the Technology Student Association, they are not enrolled in Career and Technical Education classes at the school because the CTE courses are not weighted the same as Advanced Placement classes.

“This made me feel we are doing a disservice to our students,” said McQuilkin.

Alexandra Pickett, a student at Nashua High School North, said she has taken six AP courses to improve her chances of a higher GPA and class rank, and opted not to take any engineering classes even though that is her passion.

Dotty Oden, member of the Board of Education, said a task force should be formed to study whether the current GPA class ranking system should be continued or changed. If the task force believes it should be changed, a full report with recommendations should be submitted to the board, she said.

With a vote of 7-2, the board agreed to implement the task force in September once the district’s strategic plan is finalized.

“They feel it is creating an unhealthy culture of competition,” Oden said of the existing system.

Two student representatives on the Board of Education suggested that perhaps the CTE courses be weighted more, instead of adjusting the current class ranking system.

George Eid, a student representative from Nashua High School South, said that when students take an AP course, they are learning the content throughout the process, regardless of whether it is being taken to improve their class rank.

“It definitely is a motivation for learning,” he said of the current class ranking system, questioning whether the process really needs to be radically changed.

Doris Hohensee, school board member, said that perhaps students should be able to opt out of the class ranking. She was hoping the topic would be studied by a school board committee before a task force was adopted.

“It is a very heated topic, and everybody has a lot invested in the game. You are talking about their futures,” said Hohensee.

The new task force will be comprised of administrators, teachers, guidance counselors, teachers, students and parents.