The Duval County School Board is looking at changing the way high school seniors are ranked. Opponents of numerical academic rankings say they do more harm than good.
As it stands, the senior with highest GPA is first in the class, and the student with the lowest is last. But the board is considering other options, including percentile ranking. So out of a class of 280, a student who is 56th would be labeled as “in the top 20 percent,” not “number 56.”
Tuesday, the board heard a presentation from district staff regarding other options at the request of board member Ashley Smith Juarez.
“Several months ago during the public comment portion of our regular board meeting we had a parent come forward and bring concern,” Smith Juarez said.
Those concerns centered around students’ quality of life and stress associated with the ranking system. Board members informally agreed any changes wouldn't impact 2018 graduates.
Board member Ashley Smith Juarez said students are starting high school classes as early as eighth grade, to ensure their GPAs are top-notch. And in high school, which begins with ninth grade, some Duval students are taking extra classes in addition to their full-time schedules to compete.
Taking several advanced placement classes may boost a student’s GPA, but not necessarily align with their goals, she said.
“We need to counterbalance some of the ranking based on academic GPA with understanding students pursuing their passions, their interests and building a knowledge and skill set that will help them in college, career or life,” she said.
The district also looked into research, drawn from the National Association of Secondary Principals, concerning the toll class rank can take on students in the bottom and top of their class.
Unhealthy competition among students as well as negative thoughts among students ranked low were cited as reasons class rank should be eliminated and replaced with another method.
“That mental health piece is an issue” board member Cheryl Grymes said.
District staff said the top students in a class are decided by a thousandth of a percentage point in some cases.
In a district survey of universities, Florida Atlantic University was the only one in the state that said class rank is more important than percentile rank. Even FAU said it wouldn’t hold it against a student if no class rank was available. In contrast, the University of Florida doesn't even consider class rank in admissions.
Of popular out of state colleges, Vanderbilt University said just 30 percent of their applicants have a class rank. The University of North Carolina said it’s seeing many high schools in the northeast abandoning the class rank method Duval uses. Most other Florida districts also use the class rank method.
Board member Becki Couch said she’d like to explore also adding a district-wide percentile ranking. She said this would be helpful for students in schools with a large concentration of high-performing students that may be somewhere in the middle at their school, but in the top percent of seniors overall.
The board is also looking at the Latin system, which colleges use: summa cum laude for highest honors and so on.
Couch thinks this is the best option. “It really mirror's college,” she said. “But [I] don’t like that without Valedictorian and Salutatorian.”
The district polled about 150 seniors, many of them in student government. About 43 percent of them disagreed class rank should be eliminated and a quarter had no opinion. One said it wouldn't be fair to those who worked hard to be ranked in the top five or 10.
Another student - whose class rank falls in the middle - didn’t like the ranking system.
Smith Juarez asked distrct staff to bring back a larger and more diverse sample of student feedback.
The issue of class ranking will be considered by the district’s Student Progression Plan Committee, which is made up of teachers, parents, district staff and others. That committee will make recommendations to the school board this summer. The board said it would want to make a decision on this topic before 2019 seniors start college applications.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.