Class rank could become a thing of the past at Riverside-Brookfield High School.
At the November District 208 school board meeting, RB Principal Pamela Bylsma said officials will begin a study to see if the school should stop ranking students.
“We do need to take a look at class rank,” Bylsma said.
According to Bylsma, RB counselors have been telling her that most colleges and universities do not rely on class rank in making admissions decisions.
“The majority of them don’t list class rank as one of the things that’s necessary for application,” said Bylsma. “Very few of them have even listed it all.”
Stacey Kostell, director of undergraduate admissions at University of Illinois, said that class rank is not a big factor in making admissions decisions at the downstate Big 10 university.
“Many of our feeder schools and many of the students who apply here, the high schools no longer provide a class rank on the transcript,” Kostell said. “It’s certainly a factor that we’ll use if we have it, but we can certainly make admissions decisions for students without it as well.
“We look at the transcript, and what’s really more important than the rank is knowing the courses that are offered at the high school, knowing how students have taken advantage of those courses, and their grade trend in those courses, et cetera. Really, that’s more telling and beneficial to us.”
Eliminating class rank has become a trend at high schools. According to Bylsma, about half of all American high schools have eliminated class rank.
Many educators believe that ranking students according to their grade-point averages fosters needless competition among students and can lead to mindless obsession about GPA among some students.
At RB, students have been known not to take certain classes because they fear the class will affect their grade-point averages. Because of RB’s weighted grade system, top students often feel pressured to take only Advanced Placement and honors classes to get the weighted grade to boost their GPA. They will sometimes avoid taking a class that interests them if it is only offered as a regular class, without a weighted grade.
Eliminating class rank would relieve a lot of stress on students, Bylsma said.
“I believe we are going to spend a lot of time studying this,” Bylsma said.
Hinsdale District 86, where Bylsma worked before coming to RB this year, has just eliminated class rank.
District 208 school board President James Marciniak says that he would likely support eliminating class rank.
“I’m a fan of considering getting rid of class rank, simply because I don’t find the notion of pitting students against each other by ranking them within their class terribly useful,” Marciniak said.
In the meantime, at its December meeting the District 208 school board voted 6 to 0 to tweak the system of weighted grades at RB and slightly lessen the boost given to advanced classes.
Currently a grade of A in a regular level class is worth 4 points while an A in an honors class in worth 5 and an A in an AP class is worth 5.5. Under the new policy, which will go into effect in 2011-12, an A in an honors class will be worth 4.5 while an A in an AP class will be worth 5.0.
The change was made to help students who might be late bloomers and who don’t take honors classes as freshmen, said Tim Scanlon, RB’s assistant principal for curriculum and instruction. Under the current system, freshmen who take honors classes get a large boost in their GPAs right from the start.
“They pull away from the rest of the kids in a fashion that is too rapid and so the playing field becomes, you know, if you don’t start [taking honors classes] right away you can never ever catch up, you can never be competitive,” Scanlon said. “We’ll make sure that everyone gets the reward for the accelerated curriculum, but we’ll pull it a little tighter so that if a kid isn’t ready to start that accelerated curriculum until his sophomore year, he or she won’t be so behind that they can’t ever catch up.”
Current students will stay under the current system of weighted grades until they graduate.
RB also has decided to eliminate the requirement that students taking an Advanced Placement class must take the College Board’s AP exam to get the weighted grade that normally comes with taking an AP class.
Until now, an RB student taking an AP class had to take the College Board AP exam, which costs $87 this year, to get the weighted grade.
That will change.
“Any student who takes the class will get the extra weight for the AP class,” Bylsma said. “They do not have to take the test to earn that extra weighting. There’s no advantage to the GPA to take the test or not to take the test.”
To get college credit for an AP class a student has to take and score well on the College Board’s AP exam.
Bylsma said that RB students will still be encouraged to take the AP exam.
“It’s very clear that there’s a correlation with students doing well at the university level with taking the test,” Bylsma said. “Not as strong a correlation with simply taking the class.”