The Lyons Township High School Board of Education later this spring will be considering a recommendation to eliminate class rank from student records moving forward.
The recommendation, which is coming from an ad hoc group studying the issue at LTHS, comes on the heels of an internal school climate survey of students, faculty and parents that identified academic stress as a particular issue at the school.
“More and more colleges are not requiring it, and a great number of schools in the Chicago area that we compare ourselves to have eliminated it,” said Scott Eggerding, director of curriculum and instruction at LTHS.
According to Eggerding, in addition to the stress class rank causes students because of the intense competition for the top spots, some good students at LTHS come up short with regard to class rank, because of the school’s size and its number of high performers.
Kids with grade-point averages of 3.0 (a B average) — which is the average unweighted GPA at the school — can find themselves ranked 500th in their classes.
“Kids are at a disadvantage, because we’re such a large school,” Eggerding said. “I don’t know how it really helps them.”
Class rank concerns also sometimes drive student decision-making when it comes to choosing courses. A student may pass up a course he or she is interested in if another course might be able to boost their GPA and improve their class rank.
While it looks as if the school may eliminate class rank, Eggerding said the study group is working on ways to continue to recognize high-performing students, like class valedictorians.
The school climate survey, which was completed in the fall of 2013, mentions class rank a number of times during the section of the survey dealing with the academic stress students feel. Both parents and students indicated that class rank was one of the top 10 factors contributing to student academic stress levels.
But class rank was by much less of a concern to parents and students than the amount of homework students are required to complete. Homework topped the list of academic stress factors for both students and parents. For teachers, homework ranked third behind students’ family problems and competitive college requirements.
Seventy-nine percent of students who filled out the survey either strongly agreed or agreed that academic stress was a problem at LTHS. Teachers, too, felt strongly about the level of academic stress, with 75 percent strongly agreeing or agreeing with students on that topic.
“The overall thing that popped out was stress,” said Eggerding. “Three quarters of our students say they’re stressed.”
Parents, on the other hand, are not so sure about how serious a problem academic stress is for their students. Just 53 percent of parents who responded to the survey felt academic stress was an issue at LTHS.
“I don’t think that’s very surprising,” said Eggerding. “There are very high expectations by families in this community. For some of our parents, they know it’s stressful, but they don’t think it’s a problem.”
If there’s any consolation officials can take from the 2013 survey, it’s that academic stress was perceived as less of problem by students than in 2011. Two years ago, 84 percent of students who responded to the survey said academic stress as an issue.
Eggerding said that several factors may have had an impact on that change, everything from an improvement in the economy to academic stress-reduction focus groups the school conducted after the 2011 survey.
“We haven’t changed our curriculum expectations,” said Eggerding.
On the other hand, a greater percentage of parents and teachers felt academic stress was an issue in 2013 than in 2011.
Because academic stress continues to be a pressure point, LTHS will review its homework philosophy and try to find ways to relieve academic stress on students. The review could include more focus groups, a separate homework survey to ID specific problems or “engage teachers in research about best practices regarding homework.”
But, Eggerding said, the homework issue is a difficult one to quantify, because classes are simply different.
“Math is very different from English; a chef’s class is different from a vocal class,” said Eggerding.
The academic stress attributed to homework can also be affected by non-homework related things, like sports and other extracurricular activities.
“Homework is a many-tentacled response,” said Eggerding. “Is it the amount of homework, or is it in addition to extracurricular activities?
Maybe the answer, Eggerding said, is “how do we help students learn how to homework better?”