Starting in the 2014-15 school year, Albemarle County Public Schools will stop reporting class rankings to colleges and universities.
The School Board voted unanimously last week to stop sending decile rankings to schools, but will continue to report them to military academies, as well as when needed for honors programs and scholarships.
The vote comes on the heels of parent complaints that argued that reporting decile ranks places competitive students who fall just outside of the top tier at a disadvantage when applying to selective schools.
In addition to the vote to end reporting next year, the Board heard from Albemarle County parent and former college admissions officer Fred Smyth, who criticized how the division calculates GPA.
Many students, Smyth said, take challenging, but un-weighted electives, and thus earn lower GPAs than students who opt for seven classes and one study hall. Doing so makes it possible for a student taking fewer graded courses to earn a higher GPA.
Board Member Eric Strucko said he’s concerned about this result, since the School Board adopted the eight period day to allow students to take more courses, and called for a motion to direct staff to rework how GPA is formulated.
“I’m concerned about this anomaly in the calculation that a student who does exactly what we encourage them to do will actually result in a lower grade point average than a student who has an identical schedule, except one of the periods is a study hall versus a foreign language or another class,” Strucko said.
What’s more, Strucko said, is that this might send a false impression of student achievement to the colleges.
But Board Member Pam Moynihan said that a student might need a study hall for his or her eighth class because their other seven classes are so difficult.
“Why are we automatically assuming that because a student takes Chinese III, and one child takes study hall, that the child taking Chinese III has a more rigorous schedule?” Moynihan asked. “Maybe the child who is taking the study hall needs the study hall in order to study for AP Calculus.”
Board Chair Steve Koleszar said it is likely that admissions officers will be able to determine which students challenged themselves the most, and questioned the need to spend staff time on GPA.
“I think in reality that even though this person might have a lower GPA,” Koleszar said, “it’s a more robust schedule to have the additional electives, and that will make them a stronger applicant.”
“Speaking for myself, as a board, we should be working on concentrating staff’s efforts on the things that can provide the most leverage to improve instruction,” Koleszar added. “I think to go through this exercise would not help us particularly improve instruction, and would not help improve student learning.”
Albemarle Superintendent Dr. Pam Moran said many colleges have developed their own systems of determining student achievement.
“[Assistant Superintendent] Haun has spoken to a number of admissions officers, who have said very clearly to him, that in many cases, the GPAs are recalculated, particularly at small liberal arts schools and places like the University of Virginia,” Moran said. “They strip certain things out, and they reweight the way they want to. So what we do carries less weight in many of those competitive colleges, than what they do.”
Strucko’s motion failed three to four, with Strucko, Jason Buyaki, and Ned Gallaway voting in support.
Buyaki said he would like to allow current juniors to opt-in to reporting decile rank next year, but Haun said colleges want consistency in reporting.
“If we send in 200 applications to the University of Virginia, and 50 of them report rank and 150 don’t,” Haun said, “and the 50 have a school profile that lists the decile ranks, [admissions officers] are going to be able to use that to look at the other 150.”
Strucko also made a motion to stop reporting ranks effective this school year, but that motion failed one to six.
To date, 356 students have sent transcripts, which is 43 percent of the students that Albemarle’s historical data says will go to college.
In his report to the Board, Haun warned against putting a stop to reporting immediately because admissions officers “expressed concerns about ‘mixed’ reporting because it may cause admission officers to create assumptions about students who do not report rank after students from the same high school did report rank.”