My Alma Mater Abandons Class Rank… Well Done West Chester High Schools!
An article by Kathy Bocella in in Philly.com describes a recent decision by the West Chester (PA) school district to abandon the practice of ranking graduates. Why?
Educators who favor dropping the system argue that in the best districts, where the students are highly competitive, the differences in grade-point average between the No. 1 and No. 20 or 25 students can be minuscule. Yet colleges might look unfavorably on that lower-ranked student.
A No. 25 in West Chester might be a No. 5 or 6 in another district, said Scanlon, whose school board voted earlier this month to eliminate ranking and weighting systems – that can push GPAs well above 4.0 – to account for the more challenging courses, effective with next year’s freshman class.
Hanover (NH) High School, the HS in the last public school district I led, abandoned the practice well before I came there in 2004 for the same reason. Given that the graduating class had roughly 20 National Merit scholars or semifinalists among its typical grading class of roughly 175 it made no sense to rank students. Indeed, it makes little sense to use GPA as the basis for any ranking at ANY high school. In virtually every HS in every district I led the difference between the top student and the students in the top 10% were microscopic and there were many instances of co-valedictorians and co-salutatorians as a result. Worse, in some instances the discriminating factor might be an A+ earned in an elective course that “earned” someone the distinction of being the valedictorian.
As the article noted, though, not every community is ready to abandon the practice:
But it was a different story in the well-regarded Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, which took heat from top-performing students and their parents when it eliminated its decile ranking system – in which seniors are grouped in the 10th, 20th, 30th, etc., percentiles, – starting this year. Critics said students were told as freshmen to work hard and aim for the top decile, which is based on three years of grades.
“They believed they would get this recognition if they succeeded, and to pull the rug out from under them is unfair,” said Timotha Trigg, a mother of a senior, who spoke out at several heated school board meetings.
I am certain Ms. Trigg’s position is heartfelt, but I doubt that the external reward of being in the top decile is as important to most students in the school— say those in the bottom deciles— as getting a passing grade or, heaven forbid, learning for the sake of learning… and if the Board in Unionville-Chadds Ford wanted to address Ms. Trigg’s concerns they could agree to phase in the new “non-ranking” system over time. My hunch: the entering Freshman class that DIDN’T have the ranking system would work every bit as hard as the last class that experienced the rankings…