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PART II: To rank or not to rank

By Debbie Gardner

PRIME Editor

The recent move by the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District to eliminate the calculation of an exact numeric class rank except for the selection of valedictorian and salutatiorian or when a scholarship, military institution or college requests the number reflects a trend away from hard numbers and toward a more holistic approach to college admission evaluations.

A study on class rank and college admissions titled "The State of College Admissions," prepared by the National Association for College Admissions Testing (NACAC) and released in October of 2006, looks at the importance of class ranking in this way:

"The top factors in the admission process continued to be (in order): grades in college preparatory courses, standardized admission tests, and overall high school grade point average. Class rank and the application essay placed fourth and fifth, while teacher/counselor recommendations were sixth" (From the abstract of the NACAC Report: The State of College Admissions).

The full report examines data from high schools across the country in regards to admissions issues such as the calculation of class rank, grade point averaging and other factors that may influence acceptance at a college.

To read the complete report, visit the following link:

Melissa Cliedinst, Assistant Director of Research for th NACAC, told Reminder Publications that the NACAC will be publishing an updated report on this subject in May of 2007, with data reflecting more specific questioning on the class rank issue.

But do colleges like it?

However, what high schools like, colleges may not necessarily find helpful.

In a March 5, 2006 New York Times article titled "Schools Avoid Class Ranking, Vexing Colleges," reporter Alan Finder points out that in the absence of a numeric class rank, some colleges attempt to recreate the figure based on data provided in a student's transcript.

In other cases, Finder points out that the colleges may weigh student performance on SATs and other standardized tests more heavily when evaluating an admissions application.

Forcing a look at whole student

Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee Chairman Scott Chapman told Reminder Publications that he and the committee where aware of the observations made in the NYT article, and that these factors were considered during the debate over changing the class ranking system.

In the end, the School Committee voted to adopt the decile ranking system, coupled with the inclusion of more information about the school system and its curriculum.

"I believe that the decile ranking will present a fairer picture of our students as well as giving them more opportunities than a straightnumerical ranking," Chapman said in an e-mail about the vote.

Freeing students from GPAs

At Longmedow High School (LHS), where any type of class ranking was eliminated a decade ago, Head Guidance Counselor Donna Lyons said there were several reasons the school chose to go rank-free.

"Sometimes it's a one-hundreth of a point between number one and number two," she said. "And there's not a significant difference between number one and number five."

"We also thought [eliminating the rank] might eliminate stress on students relating to the whole college process and being in competition for that GPA," she continued.

Third, Lyons said the school thought the elimination of ranking might encourage students to take elective classes such as art or music, which are not weighted for a grade point average.

And LHS won't provide a class rank, even if it is requested by a college or scholarship organization.

"If they call us, we will give them an approximate class rank in deciles or quentiles," she said.

Covering all their bases

East Longmeadow High School takes a completely different approach to the question of class rank, actually taking the time to calculate each student's GPA two ways, to give its students the best possible advantage in college applications.

"We embarked on this study of class rank five years ago,"said Dr. Edward Costa, Superintendant of the East Longmeadow School system. "We reassessed how kids were ranked, GPAs . we went the whole gamut we will rank, we won't rank, and then we found out that colleges and universities will re-do some ranks based on their own criteria."

In response, Costa said ELHS elected to calculate class rank twice, once using a standard ranking, the second giving more weight to honors class grades. A one-page document accompanies each transcript to explain the methodology.

"Based on the school or university, they can use the ranking that best fits their criteria," Costa said.

"We have found that this is a benefit to the students," he added.

In addition, Costa said that the dual ranking sometimes results in a class having two valedictorians or salutatorians. As these ranking often make students eligible for scholarships at colleges, he doesn't see this as a bad thing.

"To me, it's a win-win," he said.