Last Fall, the Board authorized the creation of a task force to explore the issue of class rank in our high schools. Over half of the high schools in the United States no longer report class rank, and many people, including me, believe that class rank is damaging to many if not most of our students. I will present the data supporting this position below.
The Class Rank Task Force met six times this Spring, and at this time has turned the discussion back to the Board without a recommendation. At the end of this post, I have downloaded the Task Force's Report and all of the documents the Task Force reviewed.
Tomorrow night (April 25), the Board will have the first reading of a revised policy that would eliminate class rank beyond the top 10%. The draft policy that the Board will consider is available by clicking here.
Three cutting-edge districts in Texas - Highland Park, Coppell, and Eanes - have dropped class rank beyond the top 10% and report increased college acceptance rates for their students. (Click here to read Highland Park's full report on why they eliminated class rank). The main reason for doing so, and the reason most private schools and KIPP Academy's Houston High School have dropped class rank is that the strong academic competition and student success and college preparedness are not acurately reflected in the single data point of individual student class rank.
As with the other Texas Districts, private schools, and high schools nationally, I believe the academic strength of our Spring Branch high schools and the academic performance of our students present the clear case for doing away with class rank beyond the State-mandated top 10%.
Extremely Tight GPA Ranges: The data shows that students at all 5 Spring Branch high schools are very tightly bunched in grade point average (GPA). As shown immediately below, an "A" student at Memorial and Stratford, and a solid "B" student at Spring Woods, Northbrook, and Westchester Academy, will find himself in the bottom half of the class. Indeed, a "B" student at Memorial and Stratford will potentially find himself in the bottom quarter. (Our Board discussed this issue for the first time at our meeting on April 19, 2011. Click here for the PowerPoint I used that night that includes detailed GPA data for each Spring Branch high school).
The table below shows the GPA at the 11th, 25th, 51st, and 75th percentiles in each high school:
There are a number of additional reasons why schools across the country have eliminated class rank. I believe these reasons apply with equal force in Spring Branch:
1. Students avoid the courses they are interested in to take courses that advance their rank. In 2009, Spring Branch lead the argument at the State Legislature to provide additional freedom for our students to take electives during high school. This change has allowed students to take athletics and band, or multiple foreign languages, or theater and athletics, etc., all of which is in alignment with the Board's view of the importance of student choice. However, these classes are not "weighted" for GPA purposes. As a result, these classes, and all non-required (i.e., anything other than math, science, English, and social studies) are a “hit” to the student’s GPA and thus class rank. The current system is therefore disincentive to students who want to take electives, contrary to the articulated position of the Board.
2. Single data point. A student's class rank, as a single data point, fails to reflect anything else about a student, including the student's activities, interests, non-academic successes in fine arts, athletics, etc.
3. Class ranking may eliminate holistic application review of students by college admissions offices. Most colleges report that they utilize a holistic approach to reviewing student applications if a class rank is not presented. A holistic review always presents a more complete picture of a student's individual successes, academic and non-academic.
As stated recently by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), "A system of class rank should not carry with it an underlying assumption that academic success is a scarce commodity available only to a select few students."
In addition, the College Board website states that while "class rank was once a major component in admissions decisions, according to a recent report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) over half of all high schools no longer report student rankings." The College Board also states that "Most small, private and/or competitive high schools have done away with it because they feel it penalizes many excellent students who are squeezed out of the top 10 percent of the class and then overlooked by elite schools.
I couldn't agree with the NASSP and the College Board more. And that is why I believe Spring Branch should follow the thoughtful lead of over half the high schools in the United States, and our sister districts in Texas, and adopt a policy limited to ranking only the top 10%.
Finally, for those who might worry that eliminating class rank will hurt students, I recommend reading this article that summarizes the admission factors are typically considered important by colleges according to The National Association of College Admission Counselors (NACAC). The article reports that the NACAC found as follows:
Class rank. Class rank shows where you place numerically in your class, based on your GPA. Colleges that use this factor want to see how much competition you had to face to achieve your rank. However, fewer and fewer colleges are giving class rank much importance. In fact, fewer than half of high schools now track class rank.
This finding is supported by the chart below that shows the decreasing value college admissions offices place on class rank.
The draft policy that the Board will consider is available by clicking here.
As the Board considers this policy, I have suggested the following questions should guide the decision:
- Does class rank damage the District's overarching goal for its students:
Students who start ninth grade in the district will graduate and earn a Bachelor’s degree within five years or an Associate’s degree or technical certification within three years.
- Does class rank accurately represent the level of achievement of SBISD students?
- Does class rank hurt students in the college application process?
- Do all students deserve to be positioned in the best way possible to maximize the opportunity for success?
- Should all students be best-positioned in a way that most accurately represents their secondary school successes in the college application process?
- Should all students have the best opportunity to go to college?
- Should all students be able to explore their areas of interest by taking electives? (athletics, fine arts, foreign languages, etc.)
Here are the Task Force documents:
The materials reviewed by the Task Force are as follows:
- Literature Review
- GPA Decile Report
- Student Survey
- Phone Interviews with Universities
- Poll of Texas Districts, Poll of Comparison Schools and Poll of Private High Schools
- Studies from Highland Park and Round Rock
- SBISD High School Profiles
- SBISD College Enrollment Data
- Current Class Rank Policy
- Task Force Agenda and Minutes
- Request for Approval of Charge for the Class Rank Task Force