The 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 just at their 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 student’s weighted GPA.
Many schools use GPA rankings to pick a valedictorian and salutatorian, usually the top one and two students among all seniors. Colleges use class rankings to help make admissions decisions, and scholarships use rankings 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 has urged the district to consider changing it.
Fu said before the board meeting Tuesday that 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 she learned that while 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 require 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, she said.
“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 … (many) 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, one of the first questions 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’s place, said Kelly Coker-Daniel, assistant superintendent of accountability and assessment.
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, she said.
Most Florida districts still use numeric class rankings, even though most colleges in the State University System of Florida said they don’t value class ranking over percentile ranking. The University of Florida doesn’t even consider class ranking, though it will look at percentiles, Coker-Daniel said.
Also Florida’s Talented Twenty program guarantees state university admission to the top 20 percent of Florida seniors ranked by school.
A Duval student progression plan committee will begin meeting later this month to consider changes to class rankings, possibly for next year or later.
Meanwhile a cross section of students will be surveyed about their preferences. So far, 152 students already surveyed were nearly two-thirds in favor of replacing ranking with a percentile but 36 percent were against it.
When asked if class rank should disappear altogether from high school transcripts, 43 percent disagreed. Nearly 32 percent agreed, and the rest had no opinion.
Some student’s written comments show how opinions were split.
“This won’t be fair to those who worked hard to be ranked in the top 5 or 10 of class,” one student wrote.
“There needs to be winners and losers in life,” another wrote.
A third student wrote: “I am personally in the middle and I don’t like ranking.”
The School Board may decide the issue over the summer.
Denise Smith Amos: 904-359-4083