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District 833 to drop high school class ranking

When the Class of 2013 graduates this weekend, it will be the last year District 833 high schools designate and recognize their top two students.

Park, Woodbury and East Ridge high schools have agreed to do away with class ranking. For Park and Woodbury that will mean no more valedictorian and salutatorian beginning next year.

While class ranking was in effect at East Ridge, the school has never designated a valedictorian or salutatorian. Instead, top ranking students are invited to stand before the graduating class and be honored for their academic achievements, according to Aaron Harper, East Ridge principal.

Park Principal Kerry Timmerman and Woodbury Principal Linda Plante and guidance counselors from the three schools recently met with parents to discuss why class rankings are giving way to grade point average only.

Class rankings will not be on high school transcripts, given to students or released to parents beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

Principals have been talking for some time at monthly meetings about dropping class ranks, according to Keith Ryskoski, assistant superintendent for secondary education.

"I give credit to the buildings for coming up with this," Ryskoski said, adding that it has his support as well as that of Superintendent Keith Jacobus.

More than half of high schools across the country have done away with class rankings, district counselors said at a recent information meeting.

It might surprise many parents to know that an admirable 3.9 GPA might not place a student in the top 10 percent of the class in a metropolitan area high school with a good academic program.

A student in a metropolitan high school of 1,800 students, for example, could have a 3.8 average -- still in the A or A- category -- and be ranked 80th out of 420 graduates. But a student from a small town high school in rural Minnesota might be valedictorian and ranked first with the same GPA.

If a college is looking only at class ranking, an application from a student ranked 80th goes to the bottom of the pile, administrators said.

Students graduating from an outstanding high school with many high achieving students can have a 3.9 GPA and have a class ranking even farther down.

The differences between each student are in the thousandths of a point, counselors said.

Officials said the rationale to do away with class ranking is that student who is one-thousandth of a point below the salutatorian shouldn't be disadvantaged because he or she is still an extremely high achiever.

High-achieving students will still be honored in the Park High School Class of 2014 during graduation, but the method has not been decided. Those students with a GPA of 3.5 to 3.66 will be designated as students graduating with honors.

Students with GPAs of 3.66 to 3.99 with graduate with high honors and student with GPAs 4.0 and above with graduate with distinction.

GPAs of more than 4.0 are possible when students take more rigorous and difficult classes because grades are weighted higher.

Over the past 10 years, more and more schools are dropping class rankings. School districts that no longer have class ranking include Hill Murray, Eden Prairie, Orono, Bloomington Jefferson, Bloomington Kennedy, Stillwater and Mounds View.

When polled by District 633 high school counselors, none of the schools reported any difficulties for students getting into college after rankings were discontinued.

If a college or scholarship requires class rank, and not reporting it could negatively affect a student's application, the information will be made available.

Timmerman said eliminating rankings allows students to focus on getting a good education that prepares them for college as opposed to taking courses to increase their ranking.

Without a class rank, college admissions personnel look at GPAs, personal essays and the body of work the student did over four years such as the number of advanced classes, he said.

Counselors displayed a list of schools that include traditional, private, public and elite institutions that don't require class rankings such as the University of Minnesota, a college many students apply to..

Some parents of high achieving students who attended the information meeting at Park argued that, in spite of the counselors' assertions, that the colleges their students are applying for are insisting on getting class rankings.

When that occurs, which counselors said is infrequent, the school would write a letter explaining the school's policy.

If only a GPA is listed, colleges accept that, counselors said. If a ranking is there, admissions people look at it and are less likely to consider the whole application.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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