Eventually, all people face the reality of being judged better or worse than someone else, said Lenore Bragaw, a District 214 school board member.
"I understand that in Little League or on swim teams everyone gets a ribbon," Bragaw said. "That's fine when you're 6 years old. But kids in high school will eventually go to medical school or they'll get a job, and they'll be ranked."
Starting with the Class of 2013, District 214 will phase out the typical class ranking system and replace it with a "quartile system," which divides students into one of four groups - those in the top 25 percent of their class; those in the top half; those who rank in the 50-75 percent group and those who finish dead last.
Bragaw was the only board member to object. She said the quartile system isn't fair to students in the 26th percent of their class, for instance, who wind up lumped with the top half.
District 214 officials said fully 45 percent of high schools in the U.S. have eliminated class rank altogether. Officials checked with the five colleges that accept most District 214 students - those colleges said cutting class rank would not hurt students when they apply, according to Rosemary Gonzalez-Pinnick, the district's associate superintendent for educational services.
The board first discussed eliminating class rank altogether. Some officials say the ranking hurts some grads - a student with a "B" average in District 214 can rank in the bottom half of his or her class.
"Class rank put undue pressure on students and parents," said board President Bill Dussling.
"(But) even though many schools are moving away from class rank we need some way to look at where students fit in with their peers."
Superintendent David Schuler said eliminating class rank would leave a blank box on some college admission forms.
"We have to give them something," Schuler said.
The school board settled on the quartile system after a July board meeting where students and parents criticized eliminating class rank completely.
A few years ago, Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire eliminated class rank in favor of a decile system, which ranks students in groups of 10 percent. Other districts, such as Palatine-Schaumburg Township High School District 211, see value in class rank.
Schuler said other districts in the county use the quartile system, but he's not aware of any local schools who use it.