Friday, May 14, 2010

Trendy Schools Risk College Scholarship Dollars

Attention middle school parents: Is your school board making trendy policy changes that could cost Rochester students lost college scholarship opportunities?

There is a good chance that they are.

Is there a benefit to the students? Nobody knows.

The Rochester Community Schools board is changing the way it honors high-achieving graduates. The proposed changes will improve the recognition system. But ever-conscious of being trendy, the district will also inadvertently take aim at high-achieving students by removing honors and rankings that can undoubtedly help in admissions and scholarships.

I have yet to understand why we wouldn’t want to do everything we can to help in the competitive admissions process, and I’m dumbfounded why we would want to put potential scholarship dollars at risk.


The district currently has no mechanism for weighting grades. As far as GPA is concerned, an “A” in gym or salsa-making is equal in weight to an “A” in AP Calculus. As a result, you’ll have some of the “top scholars” consist of those that really busted their butts with a rigorous schedule, while others “not so much.”

So discussions on grade weighting began in 2006. With weighting, the grading scale is expanded; potentially offering extra points to the grades earned in rigorous AP classes. Instead of a 4.0 scale, the tough classes might work on a 4.5 scale. An “A” in AP Calc would be worth 4.5, while an “A” in Diet and Exercise would be worth 4.0. A “B” in AP Calc would be worth 3.5, while a “B” in Diet and Exercise would be worth 3.0. This would reward those students who took the challenging classes, and allow them to stand out. It might also provide an incentive for those who might otherwise shy away from AP classes for fear it would damage their GPA.

After several years of committee work, the board was presented with a proposal that looked at a different approach. Instead of adding weight to the grades of tougher classes, they were proposing to lower the grading scale. I wrote about that here in a blog entry entitled, “
Come to Rochester, our A’s are easier!


Fortunately the committee moved away from their “lower the bar” initial proposal. But sadly, they abandoned the whole concept of rewards and incentives for rigorous classes. Ironicially, the "grading committee" did nothing about grades! :-)

But they did come back with something pretty good.

Rather than the time-honored tradition of summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude, which is generally based solely on GPA, the district will now implement
a more expanded set of requirements:

GPA: 3.9 – 4.0
Four AP Courses
ACT Composite of 32 or higher

GPA: 3.8
Three AP Courses
ACT Composite of 28 or higher

GPA: 3.5
Two AP Courses
ACT Composite of 26 or higher

It’s got a few warts (like no requirement to take the AP exam), but overall I like this proposal because it will acknowledge those that really applied themselves, and showed measurable success.


However, in the process of creating this new proposal, they tossed in a few footnotes. No grade weighting, the elimination of Validictorians, Salutorians, and the elimination of class rank.

They did not explain why.

At one point while I served on the board there was some talk that class rank (and Val/Sal recognition) served as an excuse for not talking rigorous classes. Kids would not want to risk their GPA or class rank position.

This is an unsubstantiated theory. There has not been a meaningful discussion in public on this. And if there were some way to prove it, then one could argue that grade weighting could solve it.

I wrote about this a few years back ("
Academic Achievement Deserves More Recognition, not Less!").

To be fair, there are some highly selective, top achieving schools that have eliminated class rank. These are schools where many students are taking rigorous classes, scoring well, only to find themselves barely making the top 25%. That is not the case in Rochester, where less than 40% of the graduates can pass all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks.

On it's website, The College Board states:

According to a March 2006 New York Times article, some college admissions officers disapprove of the trend away from reporting class rank, because, they say, it forces them to "make less informed decisions or overemphasize results on standardized tests."

They go on to say:

Most large state universities, however, still require applicants to report class rank (as do many scholarship programs), and rely on it to help sort through the high volume of applications received.

Eliminating class rank, and vals/sals seems to be a solution in search of a problem.


By eliminating class rank, and vals/sals, the school board is putting at risk some scholarship money. Scholarships for vals and sals are quite clear in the requirements. No val/sal, no money. And some scholarships specifically incorporate class rank into their formula. No class rank, no money.

If we are going ruin the opportunity for some students to earn scholarships, then we must have a good reason, right?

I asked that question in a letter to the board. The response: “Thank you. Please provide your home address when corresponding with the board.”

So, I waited around for three and half hours at a school board meeting to ask them in person. Check out the robust board discussion in this clip:

Is it any wonder people avoid school boards like the plague?

I followed-up with yet another letter, and finally received a response. The response did not explain WHY the honors are being eliminated, but does offer a defense that argues our kids will not be negatively impacted because Rochester will join a growing list of high schools that does not report class rank.


The response was thoughtful, but the arguement was weak. It was quite illustrative of the typical debates that happen all the time in education.

For example, one might argue that the trend is moving away from class rankings, and as a result colleges have adjusted their admissions policies to adapt. Therefore, we should follow the trend.

The opposing argument would note that over half of the colleges still consider class rank to be considerably or moderately important. Therefore, we should retain class rank to give an extra boost to the high achievers.

If you were to ask a college, “Do you value class rank?”, the answer would mostly like be “Yes. It’s helpful”

If you ask that same college, “Can you live without it?”, the answer would probably be “Yes. We must, because some schools don’t report.”

In the end, if both sides of a debate can site the same reports and sources as support for their argument, then does it even matter?

Yes, it does.

Schools should be preparing our children to be adults. Competition is part of life. Shielding them from competition is not doing them any good. It spoils them. Pampers them.

We’re comfortable ranking them as athletes, but not as scholars? We’re comfortable naming a winner in a race, but not in overall academic achievement? We can line the gym walls with athletic records, but won't honor our scholars in the same manner?

Our children are entering a world that is highly competitive. College admissions and scholarship awards are highly competitive. A good class rank, not to mention val/sal designation, is not going to be a deciding factor for a college or a scholarship board. But it would help.

We should not be taking away tools that can help.

And school boards should welcome discussion about this, not ignore it.


Will it never end with this school board? said...

What next?

Dump diplomas altogether and hand out Participation ribbons with a juice box?

Hello, anyone home? said...

I can only assume that the vote on the motion was 7-0. I believe every vote since Mike left has been 7-0.

How can all 7 of them just sit there like that without at least making some attempt to answer the questions.

Where have all the thinkers gone?

Good questions, Mike.

Rachel S. said...

I completely agree. Taking away the honors takes away the desire to try hard. My school had a valedictorian, honorary valedictorian, and salutatorian this year, and at least two of the three received full rides to the school of their choice. I have a 4.2 GPA as a junior, and I only rank number 4 in my class. But frankly, all of things only drive me to be more competitive, take the toughest classes I can, and do my complete best. I know for a fact that taking away the class ranking and the val/sal would only make me lazy, and the "All A's" thing would be the only thing to strive for.

Another thing I'm confused about is how each school/school board can choose how to honor scholars. For example, the "Scholars of Highest Distinction" requirement listed in the article said that four AP courses were required, along with an ACT composite of 32 or higher. First of all, I know many schools (including mine, I believe) that don't even offer 4 AP courses for seniors, unless they are further along than the rest of their class. Additionally, it seems to set a strange level for the ACT score - I have the highest GPA possible for me to get, but I didn't receive a 32 on my ACT. In my opinion, this standard would make those who do well in school but perhaps don't perform as well on tests be pushed behind.

Mike Reno said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rachel.

First of all, based on what you've written, I can't picture any policy that would make you lazy! I am sure you would work hard no matter what.

My point is that you should be rewarded for your hard work, with a high class rank, and perhaps even val or sal (if you earn it).

Your hard work and achievement should count.

The AP class requirement is over your entire high school career, not just your senior year.

I suspect you will have taken at least four during your entire time at high school.

The ACT score is indeed a high bar.

I bet if you retake, you'll have a better score. You'd be one year older, one year smarter, and highly motivated!

You are exactly the type of student that should be rewarded for hard work.

Sadly, you are the exact type of student who would be penalized by this school board.

Victim said...

Can't have class rank because that would provide evidence that one student scored better than another.

We certainly would not want to damage their fragile little egos, or their self-esteem, now would we?

My guess is that some board member's child has been a "victim" of class ranking.

Stop the Rudeness said...

Your questions were reasonable, Mike.

Not only was it irresponsible for them to ignore your questions, but it was downright rude!

I'm sad you are not up there any more because now they can just ignore you.

Just three more years and I'm done with them!

Equal Opportunity Mediocrity said...

To be "fair" they should get rid of all rankings and recognitions differentiating one student from another.

One size fits all in Rochester.

Anonymous said...

First off there has been no vote to decide this. Come out of your bunkers and address the board yourselves! The final vote is still to come.

Mike: Rachel states she has a 4.2 gpa.

RCS wanted to grade AP higher to entice more
P participation but YOU went on a nutty and said "our A's are easier".

What way do you want it?

Recognize AP with a higher grade point and keep Vals and Sals.

Leave it alone and let the kids with 4.0 in underwater basket weaving get Vals and SDals?

Make changes that encourage and recognize AP and move forward?

You article like your public statements go in circles.

How can anyone address this tail chasing?

So show up all of you and see. Contribute stop being crybabies.

Mike Reno said...

To Anonymous:

I absolutely support grade weighting. The "Our A's are easier" was an objection to lowering the grading scale, not to grade weighting.

They were proposing to allow an "A" at 87%.

I have no idea what you mean by "tail chasing", and I'm not sure how to explain things in more basic and simple terms.

I've very clearly said to keep class ranking, along with vals/sals. Add AP grade weighting.

And after seeing the way the board ignores people, what is the point in showing up?

Anonymous said...

So 87% in an AP class should still be a ?? grade?

How do you do AP grade weighting without lowering the raw percent score to get a 4.0?

Because a 4.0 in AP is no longer the top grade in that system.

Or do we perform the weighting after with a multiplier?

Either way anyone could still say we lowered the bar.

Hecklers Anonymous said...

Dear Heckler:

Mike explained in his article how grade weighting works. You should read before heckling.

Grade weighting does nothing to the grading scale. What it does is "add weight" to whatever grade is earned RELATIVE to standard scale classes, like your "underwater basket weaving"

If you are going to debate here, please do your homework FIRST. Afer all, this isn't the school board, where no thought is required.

RCS Neighbor said...

I always enjoy following this school districts business. Free Saturday night entertainment!! It makes every cent I pay for private school well worth it and reminds me to thank the Lord every day my children are not subjected to public school boards.

I'm not sure this should even be a school board issue. This sounds like it should be an adminisrative decision to me.

I can't believe this district is even considering abandoning class rank.

I certainly hope the current school board thinks about what is in the best interests of the kids. Life isn't fair! There should be a higher GPA assigned to AP classes. There should be a sal/val. There should be a class rank!

Shouldn't this school board be concerned about balancing its budget instead of the kids GPA's?

Dr. Richard Zeile said...

The fact that a policy was changed without rational other than "other people are doing it" is disappointing. Too often, people who serve on a board let others do the thinking for them.