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.