July 25, 2008

School May Eliminate Class Rank

By Anna Kurth, The Daily Telegram, Superior, Wis.

Jul. 24--Superior school district may eliminate class rank.

A committee of administrators, parents, school board members and students is making a recommendation to the board's curriculum committee to do away with the ranking system and weighted grades starting with the class of 2011 to lessen competition between the districts' top performing students.

Their recommendation includes a Laude honors recognition system for students based on grade point average and the number of advanced courses a student takes.

The reason for the class rank elimination would be to encourage students to take academic risks by taking advanced courses and stifling intense competition between students, said Kent Bergum, Superior High School principal.

The new form of recognizing student achievement would give students more opportunity to take classes based on interest instead of choosing courses based on their effect on class rank, Bergum said.

Class rank is based on a students' grade point average. A student currently can receive a higher grade point average by taking honors or Advance Placement courses because they are worth more points. Students would have the possibility to earn a 5.0 for a perfect grade in an honors course where they could earn only a 4.0 for a perfect score in a regular course.

Under the new recommendation, all courses would have a 4.0 scale. Students would have the opportunity to earn Laude recognition through a combination of grade point average and participation in Advance Placement or Project Lead the Way courses.

Advanced Placement courses allow students to take college-level classes while in high school. Students who take the courses then have the opportunity to take a test with the possibility of earning college credit.

Project Lead the Way is another national curriculum that introduces students to engineering. It is affiliated with several colleges and universities across the country including the University of Minnesota and the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Students taking Project Lead the Way classes have the opportunity to receive college credit in engineering if they attend one of the program's affiliated schools.

Honors courses, which currently allow for weighted grades, would not have any distinction under the new system. The school would have no valedictorian or salutatorian. Instead, students would be honored with the distinction of summa cum laude, magna cum laude or cum laude at graduation and these distinctions would be shared with colleges instead of rank.

The class ranking system creates winners and losers. It causes students to work against each other and not support one another's learning, Bergum said.

"There's a perception from kids that you have to be number one," he said.

They think if they're first in the class they'll get into the best school or get the best scholarship, but that's not necessarily the case, he said.

Superior school district uses a committee that evaluates students for scholarships on several different factors including class rank, leadership, an essay, department recommendations and standardized test scores. Class rank is only one factors, and the new laude system would replace it as a factor, Bergum said.

Colleges also often take a variety of factors into account in their admission decisions -- including class rank.

Rank is one of several factors considered during admission decisions at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, which considers both academic and non-academic factors, said Lee Parker, UWS admissions advisor. Elimination of class rank is common at high performing schools where students with high grade point averages may rank low because many students at the school do well, he said.

One implication of eliminating class rank is that colleges look more closely at student performance on the ACT test. Class rankings help students who are ranked highly but perform poorly on the test, he said.

About 50-75 students of each SHS class are highly competitive each year. They are the ones who take the Advance Placement classes, and there's a perception among other students that those classes are only for top performing students. Eliminating class rank and going to a Laude system will encourage more students to try the rigorous classes because it opens up the opportunity for honor to more students, Bergum said.

"One of the hopes ... is that there's some encouragement for students to take AP courses here," he said.

The committee plans to make its recommendation to the board's curriculum committee next month. If the curriculum committee approves of the recommendation, it would present it to the school board at the committee of the whole meeting at 5 p.m. Aug. 4 at the district office.


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