Duval’s School Board is studying whether to stop ranking its seniors or change how it ranks them by high school grade point average.

 

The board is considering instituting a percentile ranking system, or a Latin Honors “cum laude” system, or even ranking students by their place in the district, rather than at a school. If there are changes, they would not affect today’s seniors in high school, board members agreed.

Currently the district’s high schools rank students numerically by GPA, a number which grows based on the students’ performance and the weights assigned to certain classes. The more advanced the class, the higher the weighted GPA.

Schools use GPA rankings to pick a valedictorian and salutatorians, usually the top one and two students among all seniors. Colleges use rankings to help make admissions decisions, and scholarships use ranks to award the most worthy students.

But the details of calculating the best students based on GPAs can be complicated and even harmful to students, said Amy Fu, a Stanton parent who urged the district to consider changing it.

Fu said Tuesday many high schools across the country have abandoned traditional class rankings and many high-demand colleges no longer require ranks on their applications. She said learned that touring Brown University, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins University and Duke University with her high school junior last summer. The colleges told her they don’t requires class rankings and will use other information about potential students, such as their GPA and what courses they took compared to what is offered.

But the colleges will use class ranking if provided.

Not only are Duval’s high schools weakening some students’ chances for acceptance by providing rankings, they’re also messaging students to seek the highest-weighted courses, regardless of interest or career choices.

“Kids do a lot of things in high school. If you turn them into a number, you’re just short-circuiting who they are,” said Fu, an engineer. “If you’re only looking at a high school’s top students, the top five are probably not taking any unweighted courses.”

For instance, she said, some students might benefit from taking a high school journalism course but won’t because it’s not weighted. Similar situations exist for other kinds of elective and career-oriented classes, she said.

“When I hire a scientist, the first question I ask them is, ‘How well do you write?’” she said. “Ranking is not only hurting the kid but also their desire to learn.”

Some Duval school leaders agreed with some of Fu’s points.

Two presented research to the Board which confirmed that a growing number of colleges are allowing alternative information in place of class rankings on applications.

They also said GPA competition among some top-ranked students has had negative or unforeseen effects.

For instance, numeric class rankings can mislead college admissions counselors about a student’ place, said Kelly Coker-Daniel, assistant superintendent of accountability and assessment.

For instance, she said, a student ranked 60 in a 600-student class sounds less impressive than a student ranked in the top 10 percent of their class, even though both numbers accurately describe the student.

Most Florida districts still use numeric class rankings, but Dade County schools ended valedictorian and salutatorian rankings in 2006-07.

Florida’s Talented Twenty program guarantees state university admission to the top 20 percent of Florida seniors ranked by school.