After a summer of research and a month of community meetings with parents, Assistant Superintendent Billy Haun is expected to recommend Thursday whether or not the division should continue reporting class ranks to colleges.
The reexamination of the policy is the result of numerous parent complaints, which argued that reporting class ranks unfairly hurts students who are just outside of the top 10 percent, but who are otherwise competitive students.
Currently, Albemarle reports a student’s decile rank on college applications, but former Georgetown University Admissions Officer Fred Smyth says the practice should stop because there is little difference in ability level between students in the 9th and 11th percentiles.
“In high-achieving districts, ranks tend to suggest differences that aren’t really meaningful,” Smyth says.
“We have many students packed up at the top of the class with strong programs and achievements, yet we feel bound by this arbitrary 10 percent cut,” Smyth adds. “The placement of that line is at an extraordinarily high point that doesn’t necessarily have any meaning.”
However not all parents want to see ranking reports go.
At a community meeting at Western Albemarle High School last month, parent Elizabeth Ferrall said removing the top decile ranking would be unfair to the students who earned it.
But Smyth contends that how Albemarle calculates a student’s GPA—and thus ranks students—is flawed and can hurt those who take more rigorous course loads.
“A lot of our best and brightest that are taking hard programs and doing well are going to fill up electives with music and art,” Smyth says. “But those courses aren’t weighted, so even if he or she gets an A, they have a lower GPA than someone who takes a study hall.”
What’s more, Albemarle High School parent Lori Balaban says, is that one factor in how colleges are ranked by U.S. News and World Reports is the proportion of accepted students who were in the top decile of their high school classes.
Continuing to report, Balaban says, gives colleges a reason to turn away students who fall short of the top decile.
“Every child who isn’t in the top 10 dings the [college’s] ranking,” Balaban says. “Way more than our top 10 percent are great students, so we’re punishing students for being in a good school system.”
Henry Broaddus, Dean of Admissions at the College of William and Mary, and Gregory Roberts, Dean of Admissions at the University of Virginia, both have said that their staffs take holistic approaches to evaluating applicants, and that respectively, 40 and 50 percent of their applicant pools come from school divisions that report ranks.
Additionally, Broaddus and Roberts said, it’s unlikely that a highly-qualified student would be denied admission due to one criteria.
Despite this, Balaban would like to see reporting stop.
“If you don’t report class rank, than the colleges have to look at the transcripts and consider the classes and grades you got and not consider that cutoff,” Balaban says.
According to U.S. News and World Reports, 19 percent of colleges rated high school class standing as “considerably important” in 2011.
Additionally, this year the publication has down weighted class standing in its selectivity indicator from 40 to 25 percent, while the importance placed upon SAT and ACT scores rose from 50 to 65 percent.