Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 27, 2012

High schools to stop reporting decile rankings to colleges

With so many students at the top, rankings are counterproductive, officials say

by Chris Kenrick

In Palo Alto's high-flying high schools, it's crowded at the top.

So many students earn stellar grade-point averages that the school district years ago quit reporting a student's class rank to colleges.

Beginning next year, for similar reasons, the district will stop reporting a student's decile ranking — that is, the student's standing on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the highest, when compared with classmates.

With the top decile bottoming out at 3.947 GPA, school officials decided that decile sorting harms more students than it helps.

A very respectable 3.55 GPA, for example, puts a Palo Alto student squarely in the middle — the fifth decile. A 3.0 relegates the student to decile eight.

"Our 'twos' would be 'ones' in most other places," said Director of Secondary Education Michael Milliken.

Getting ranked below the second decile is "not helpful to students" — particularly when that same student would rise to the top in most other school populations.

And students in Palo Alto's top decile "have such strong academic profiles that they speak for themselves," Milliken said.

With ranking systems such as that of U.S. News & World Report, college admissions officers are under pressure to select applicants from top deciles, Milliken said.

"A lot of these colleges want kids stacked up one to 10 so they can scoop off the top two. Have we helped our kids by putting them into these bins?

"I don't want to invoke Lake Wobegon analogies, but we have an incredibly strong population of students," he said.

More than 24 percent of current high school seniors, for example, were recognized as National Merit Semifinalists or Commended Scholars.

And SAT data shows that students ranking in Palo Alto's 25th percentile — with a combined score of 1,740 — would rise to the 75th percentile if compared with seniors across California or across the nation.

Officials conferred with leaders from other high-achieving school districts, including New Trier Township in Illinois and Eanes Independent School District in Texas, who already have dropped deciles and believe it helped their students.

"We want an environment here where kids can try new things and make mistakes — an atmosphere that's mutually supportive, not encouraging competitiveness, and we think this will help," Milliken said.

TALK ABOUT IT

Do you agree that reporting decile rankings to colleges harm students? Talk about the issue on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

Comments

There are no comments yet for this post

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields