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Schools won't send decile rankings to colleges

Original post made on Apr 27, 2012

In Palo Alto's high-flying high schools, it's crowded at the top. Because of that, the Palo Alto school district next year will stop reporting a student's decile ranking to colleges -- that is, the student's standing on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the highest, when compared with classmates.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, April 27, 2012, 9:04 AM

Comments (66)

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 27, 2012 at 10:27 am

Thank you, Michael Milliken, former Jordan Principal. Your anti-bullying strategies at Jordan are effective. You improved Jordan in other ways also. Now, you have moved on to the district office and are obviously finding ways to improve PAUSD rather than being a cardboard figurehead like our superintendent. You are appreciated by many and I look forward to reading more of your improvements.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2012 at 10:36 am

This improvement hurts the top 10% to benefit the bottom 90%.
It's understandable that the majority would support it, but top students will be harmed.

Posted by Wilson, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2012 at 10:37 am

> 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.

Which is why this ranking should be performed both at the local level, and the state level. There is no reason the State Department of Education should not also rank seniors state-wide, providing a better look at local, and state, student performance.

Posted by moi, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 27, 2012 at 10:39 am

You are correct, Mr. Milliken.

Furthermore, all our women are strong, and all our men are good-looking.

Posted by Becky Sanders, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 27, 2012 at 10:53 am

I support this decision because it moves education out of the realm of competition to what it was meant be: a way to train and mold our young for the responsibilities of civic engagement. We need more emphasis on the well-rounded individual and less on the stressed out student who feels they are not valued by their community (only 20% of students feel valued by community in a recent Palo Alto survey). Please check out Project Safety Net ( to see how you can promote healthy teens.

Posted by Arch Conservative, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 27, 2012 at 11:00 am

What was it that Garrison Keilor wrote about the school kids in that mythical Minnesota town in his tales of Lake Woebegone- "All of our kids are above average."

Posted by Southern Roots, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 27, 2012 at 11:04 am

Kudos to Michale Milliken and PAUSD. Too bad this couldn't have taken place sooner. It is heart breaking to see kids in my son's senior class not getting into a target school that they probably would have gotten into otherwise...Well, at least the future seniors will benefit from this action and have a more fair shake in the college application game. Oops, did I say game?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 27, 2012 at 11:09 am

Comment by "Mom" -
"This improvement hurts the top 10% to benefit the bottom 90%."

I will assume the "hurt" this mom is referencing is related to college admissions. The students in the top 10% are high achievers whose applications will be assessed on accomplishments both in and out of the classroom. In the abscence of ranking data, admissions looks closely at the rigor of a student's transcript in the context of their high school. I do not see how this can be a bad think for strong students.

Posted by Second Decile, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 27, 2012 at 11:10 am

To "Mom" - everyone in the first and second deciles at PA high schools has a GPA above 3.90, making both groups competitive for top colleges throughout the United States. Dropping the rankings does not hurt top students: they will still be acknowledged for their extraordinary work. It just allows more people to be competitive to schools that would normally only consider students based on class ranking which, since Paly (my high school) does not weight honors classes, is not always representative of a student's academic prowess.

For example, I barely missed the top 10% with a GPA of 3.93. I took four APs my senior year and did well in all of them, as many of my friends in the top 10% did. I'm currently attending a top Ivy League institution that certainly would not have considered me had Paly instituted individual class ranking. Dropping decile ranking allows more students like me, who are highly academically qualified but perhaps not on top of the overly competitive Palo Alto student body, to show top colleges what we are capable of.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 27, 2012 at 11:18 am

The truth is that no-one knows how important (or not) these rankings are, and the answer probably differs from student to student and school by school. But helping kids get into the "best" college isn't the only reason for PAUSD to make a change here. They have to balance that goal with things like managing the emotional health of students and the impact of grade grubbing on the school community. This seems like a sensible thing to try and we'll see how it works out. If they don't like the result, they can always go back to reporting.

Posted by High School Parent, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 27, 2012 at 11:19 am

Good decision. To the parent that said it hurts the top 10%, it really helps them and they will now be the top 3-5%

Posted by Good move, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 27, 2012 at 11:20 am

As the parent of a "top" senior this year, I can assure "Mom" above that this change will *not* hurt anyone in that first decile, except possibly students who prioritized a GPA ranking over a challenging schedule--and I think it makes sense to remove any incentive to do that. Competitive schools will look at the difficulty of classes (not reflected in the unweighted GPA), not just the grades. If you you are in the 3.95 range here with hard classes, the lack a top 10% status ranking is not going to be the thing that keeps you out of a school of choice. This is a good move.

Posted by es, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 27, 2012 at 11:35 am

Any senior will have still have to compete with other kids from Palo Alto to snare a limited number of places at any leading school that desires a balanced and diverse student body. Most schools don't want to accept a large crowd of students from the same high school. Since GPA will still be reported as will the high school that the student has attended, the removal of ranking or decile information is window dressing at best. The admissions officers know fully well the caliber and high GPA's that Paly and Gunn generate.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm

@es, I think the "limited number of spaces from a leading school" is a popular misconception. Most schools don't ration spots that way and the kids at a school don't compete with each other any more than they compete with others from their region (or with their special aptitudes, etc.). Evidence - at Gunn this year, six were admitted to Harvard, and a much larger number of course to Stanford. That's about 12% acceptance rate for Harvard (assuming about 50 apps, the historical average) vs. nationwide <6%, and higher than in years past (5 last year, 2 the year before). It is good to discard that myth since it un-necessarily hypes up the competitive vibe at the schools.

Posted by Worse, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 27, 2012 at 1:03 pm

Agree with es,

This move cannot increase college spots for our kids because there are no more spots to be had out there, especially now that students from overseas are flooding our colleges with applications and higher tuition dollars.

This move will just make an incredibly difficult situation harder for all but the very few top Paly and Gunn 4.0 students.

Six years ago the New York Times had an article on why GPA context was so important to colleges (and that was when college admissions probably was 1/2 as competitive). Colleges told the Times that at best a move like this would force them to give more credit to other objective measures like SAT scores and the number of AP classes students take.

Put that way, it sure seems that giving colleges decile cut off info would make for far less student stress and be much fairer than PAUSD's alternative.

PAUSD may be the ONLY top performing school district (in the US? the world?) that will give colleges NO GPA context. All the schools we typically emulate - from the PiE schools to the top schools in CA to the New Triers - give some context.

Years ago many of these schools replaced individual rankings with grouped context reported as GPA decile cutoffs, like PAUSD has, or GPA distribution charts. They didn't get rid of context. They just presented it another way.

If busy college admissions officers need context to make informed decisions, it sure as heck seems like they'd have to pass over our non 4.0 students and spend time on applications from students from high schools which give them the information they need to make informed admissions decisions.

Thanks PAUSD. You've just made an already terribly stressful time for our seniors lots worse.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 27, 2012 at 1:26 pm

@Worse - what context does New Trier provide? The article states that they have dropped providing decile information (with not perceived harm) - do they provide something else?

"Palo Alto school 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."

Posted by Chris, a resident of University South
on Apr 27, 2012 at 1:28 pm

A competitive college that would behave the way you describe is not one worth attending. How familiar are you with college admission decisions?

Posted by Worse, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 27, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Me too,

The only context Paly will share with colleges are SAT Reasoning (not subject test) mean scores while the PiE Benchmark schools share tons more to help their students gain admission:

New Trier breaks its GPA info into 4 categories, weighted and unweighted, and provides lots of detailed objective test data that Paly does not share with colleges.

Scarsdale reports the percent of kids who get which grade (including pluses and minuses) BY EACH SUBJECT and gives more detailed SAT, SAT Subject and AP test data than we give colleges too.

Wellesley breaks it down into 10 different GPA ranges, gives SAT and SAT Subject test data as well as much more detailed AP exam results than we give.

Edina and Chapel Hill use deciles. Chapel Hill still uses class rank too.

These are all online and easy to find. Just Google it.

Posted by Sam W., a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 27, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Well if you have a perfect 4.0 unweighted, no question about which decile you fall into :)

The rest of us will be guesswork by college admin officers.

Moral of the story, have perfect grades.

Posted by Worse, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm


Very and almost all do. And you?

It's logical but you don't have to believe me. You could call around to some colleges and see if they say that the less information they have about a student means that they are more likely to admit him.

While you are on hold, read this US News article which reports that, with the increasing flood of college applications colleges are getting, admissions officers have LESS time to spend reviewing each one. Private colleges have 15 minutes max to read the entire Common and Supplemental Applications and letters of recommendation and figure out the GPA context and test scores.

Web Link

Public colleges probably have even less.

Posted by midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 27, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Only in Palo Alto would "Mom" declare that 90 percent of high school seniors are the bottom ranked

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 27, 2012 at 3:07 pm

@Worse, thanks for that info. I am trying to verify what New Trier is doing. Per the wiki article on NT:

"Since the late 1990s, the Board of Education has been examining how to encourage students to pursue a strong academic career without having them focus too much on their class rank. The first step taken by the administration was to eliminate the process of reporting class rank and to switch to decile ranking. Around the same time, the scale for weighted GPA calculations was modified and plus and minus grades were implemented. In 2008, New Trier eliminated the reporting of ranks in class entirely."

On the school web site, I found their "profile" here: Web Link . This lists the "highest" and "median" weighted and unweighted GPA, as well as SAT and ACT component averages.

The Paly profile is here: Web Link . It has the decile info (which presumably will go away), the SAT components, and ACT aggregate scores - pretty much the same, though less ACT data. Both schools also provide similar info on average AP tests/scores and national merit winners (with NT slightly more detailed on each).

Are you seeing something different? Otherwise I would say the two approaches are fairly similar, once you equalize the GPA reporting.

Posted by It's alright , a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 27, 2012 at 4:25 pm

So does the change affect next years graduating class (2013) given rankings are calculated by fall each year? And the class of 2013 will get their ranks calculated fall 2012.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 27, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Good call by Mr. Milliken and PAUSD. While the deciles on the School Report made it possible for colleges to report the number of students in the "Top 10%", it really hurt some very high performing students. I was glad to see the administration advocating on behalf of our kids to ensure they are fairly represented in the admissions process.

Posted by Worse, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 27, 2012 at 7:04 pm

Paly Parent,

How do you know that PAUSD's reporting deciles hurt students who are not in the top decile? Top decile kids got rejected from schools they applied to too - from lots of them - so your logic doesn't follow.

Me too,

New Trier gives GPA context (4 data points of it). PAUSD will give none. Colleges will be able to construct their own context from New Trier's points. Colleges will not be able to construct anything GPA-wise from Palo Alto.

New Trier adds context to its SAT scores so colleges know which students scored in the middle, top and bottom of their class. PAUSD just reports the middle.

And New Trier's transcripts report weighted and unweighted GPAs. PAUSD only reports unweighted.

There are lots of ways for colleges to differentiate students in New Trier.

That all is on top of New Trier students getting lots of college support at school too. Its report reads as if students meet with advisors 25 minutes a day every day PLUS have access to 8 full time professional college counselors.

Our students get nothing close to that.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 27, 2012 at 9:28 pm

@Worse - thanks. Maybe you know more about what PAUSD will do next year than the article says. The article just said they would stop reporting decile information (as New Trier did); it didn't say they wouldn't report anything, such as the high/median data NT provides. I agree with you, it seems like a potentially helpful idea. The additional "mid 50%" range that NT reports for SATs might be helpful too, hard to say.

Overall, it doesn't seem that different though.

Posted by Nora Charles, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 28, 2012 at 1:14 am

I hope Palo Alto's high school students manage to have some FUN, despite this town's maniacal quest for the perfect gpa. Please know--it's hard to see this now, I realize-- that grades are really and truly not the Holy Grail. It is possible to have a wonderful life without achieving a 4.0 or attending an Ivy League school. What is important is your family, friends, a passion for something you love, and being kind and generous.

Okay, off my soapbox.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2012 at 6:33 am

To Midtowner:

Only in Palo Alto would the school district stop reporting rank to pretend that more students are in the top ten percent than reality.

Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 28, 2012 at 7:40 am

What Nora said. I've never worked for someone who had better grades than I did, and yet I was in the 2nd decile in my Paly '87 class.

Posted by Wondering?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 28, 2012 at 12:24 pm

> What Nora said. I've never worked for someone who had better
> grades than I did, and yet I was in the 2nd decile in my
> Paly '87 class.

And your point is?

Posted by another Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 28, 2012 at 1:39 pm

This is a good idea. Some sort of reasonable context is appropriate.
Incidentally, there are other competitive areas/schools of the country which keep a more community-spirited tone than some of what I have felt here...I think more needs to be done in the high schools and college apps process to create a more authentic process.
I am sorry to read the quick reaction/comment: "top students will be harmed.." Ridiculous - how about addressing the gaming of the system by a certain percentage of ultra-helicopter parents to benefit precisely those kids - there are a MULTITUDE of ways this is done, and to object to the district's change of reporting is truly minor by comparison.
I know college apps are a near full-time project for Tiger Moms, and it's all about me, me, me, but let's TRY to refocus our district's efforts, anyway, to benefit the community. Some very high achieving students (without helicopter parents) have been harmed in past in college admissions from PAUSD - fact.
Incidentally, what percentage of Stanford admits are legacies (Gunn, PALY)? Disclosure: I have no affiliatin with Stanford and my students did not apply there so no horse in that game.

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 28, 2012 at 8:17 pm

"But that is a distinctly minority view. Mr. Shain of Vanderbilt said an internal review showed that the admission rate at Vanderbilt was highest for students with a class rank and lowest for those whose schools provided neither a rank nor general data about grades.

"You're saying your grades don't matter and that you won't tell us what they mean," Mr. Shain said. "I think it's an abdication of educational responsibility.""

The above is from a New York Times article:

Web Link

As a high school parent, I believe it is our district's responsibility to provide a complete school profile along with our students' transcript so that colleges can have a clear picture of their abilities. This is essential for all students. I implore parents to write to school board members to re-evaluate this- at least provide the option of including ranks if requested by the student.

Posted by Another mom, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 28, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Hi Old Palo Alto Mom,
It's not true that it hurts the top 10% to benefit the bottom 90%. That might be the case in a regular school. This acknowledges that often very small or arbitrary things affect whether this huge group of kids end up #4 or #40, or in the top 10% or 50%, yet the designation would hurt most of those high performing kids.

MIT did away with ranking decades ago, it doesn't seem to have hurt their graduates' chances of getting into grad school. There are still various honor societies and other distinctions.

And if kids know they'll get a good GPA but won't be dinged by small differences, they might be willing to take chances with their actual learning which is far better for them in the long run.

Posted by Michael O, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 28, 2012 at 9:44 pm

@Gunn parent. Colleges are plenty smart about which high schools are excellent and which are not. I'm sure they will do just fine without deciles from PAUSD figuring out who should be admitted. Nearly a quarter of this year's graduates won Merit letters of commendation or were semi-finalists. That one of those kids in the 3rd decile should be penalized because they've enrolled in school in Palo Alto rather than Stockton -- where they be near the top of their class -- is absurd. It won't take a mathematical genius for any admissions office to line up the Palo Alto kids in order to see who has the highest GPA; seeing how the 3nd decile here compares to the 1st decile somewhere else seems subjective and arbitrary. (We already know from SAT scores that kids in the top 8 deciles here would be in the top 3 deciles at an "average" HS.)

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, though. Let's see how many kids go to top schools without the decile ranking. Then we'll see whether or not Vanderbilt will reduce the number of Palo Alto students it accepts, as we will for Harvard or Yale or Stanford of Cal Tech or any other selective school.

Posted by Ht5, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 28, 2012 at 10:17 pm

>>>>Beginning next year, for similar reasons, the district will stop reporting a student's decile ranking

Can someone confirm when this change actually goes into affect? Will the graduating class of 2013 not have rankings? Or will this commence from the class of 2014? Kids in the class of 2013 will have their rankings computed in 2012, and the article is vague - says "next year"? Why can't PAUSD send a formal communicate?

Separately, it's difficult for me to understand why people don't want to see rankings. I lived on the east coast for a while and most, if not all, top schools like gunn, had rankings. In an age of ever increasing college applications, the time it takes for an admission officer to review an app has shrunk, and this would just lead them to add another variable in the mix. What are we so afraid of? The is no research done to prove that rankings are detrimental, and we are making a mountain out of a molehill. If pausd has time on their hands, improve science and math in elementary and middle schools. The coursework is inadequate and the curriculum way below par. Kids in 5th grade don't understand basic physics or biology. If you don't believe me see our test scores for science on the 5th grade star tests, which is a low bar to start with. Enough already....

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 29, 2012 at 7:40 am

@Ht5 - your info about other schools may be dated. I checked out Great Neck North, Newton North, and Scarsdale, all good schools in towns similar to ours. None report class rank (and state so affirmatively in their school profiles). Each provides some grade context though - Great Neck shows grade distribution (what % of kids in each GPA bucket by 5% increments); Newton shows deciles (I think - it is on the transcript, not the profile) for 10th and 11th grade GPA only; and Scarsdale shows distribution of grades by subject matter only (no total) in half-grade (A, A-, B+) increments. So they all provide context information; but none provide class rank, and two out of three do not provide decile info. Interesting.

Posted by m, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 29, 2012 at 8:34 am

Here's yet another district, in Chicago, currently discussing the elimination of class rank: Web Link

And also a district in Connecticut: Web Link

both of these articles portray elimination of class rank as a national trend among high-performing districts.

Posted by another Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 29, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Thanks, m, for the links!

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm

There is a significant difference between a school not reporting class rank (about half of the nation's high schools do this) and a school not reporting GPA deciles, which is what PAUSD plans to do.

Posted by Ty, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 29, 2012 at 10:37 pm

The other issue is the letter grade. Given PAUSD does A and A- , in the absence of ranks, colleges could treat grades differently ie. a 4 vs 3.7. Currently an A- is a 4.0 per PAUSD. Either keep ranks or do away with minuses; just have one grade. I wonder who is looking at all the ramifications here.

Posted by Worse, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 30, 2012 at 7:28 am

Michael O,

Sure wish what you said was true. But it turns out that kids coming from schools like Paly are a dime a dozen in competitive college admissions circles.

Every college town and major city has affluent suburbs populated with tons of bright, hard working, affluent seniors seeking very limited (and not increasing) college spots, just like us.

Paly is NOT even close to THE most respected high school in the US with its 491st most rigorous high school spot in America. (Six years ago we were 360-ish so our reputation is falling.) We aren't even in the top 50 in California.

Web Link

Do the math:
- 491 high schools as good or better as Paly together graduate about 35,000 seniors each year.
- The top 10 colleges have only 16,000 spots to give out, total.
- This year, Stanford got 37,000 applications from around the world for its 1,700 spots, a record low 6.6% yield for the university and, rumor has it, a low admit rate for Paly students this year too.

Add to that colleges are actively seeking diversity – ethnic and geographic.

So colleges will only take a few kids from each high school no matter how accomplished their students are or how much information a school district like Palo Alto keeps from them.

With tons of other seniors attending high schools which happily provide the GPA context that colleges need, college admissions officers will either accept other kids over ours whose GPAs they can't read or assume that PAUSD is not providing GPA context because it wants more kids to look good (read: rampant grade inflation) and so will discount the GPAs everyone in our district earns when making their accept and reject decisions.

Posted by Worse, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 30, 2012 at 7:45 am

Another mom,

According to a good friend who was an admissions officer for eons at a very, very competitive college, removing decile info WON'T hurt the top 20 kids at Paly (the top 5%) but it will HURT everyone else (the remaining 95%).

Colleges don't care if a student is #4 or #40. It is just that colleges don't know whether a 3.8/9 GPA or below is easy or hard to get because each high school grades differently.

It is perceived that schools on the Left Coast (California) have lots of grade inflation so without context all our kids will be seen as earning a normalized GPA that is much lower than what they actually worked hard to earn.

And that is not fair to any of our kids.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 30, 2012 at 9:52 am

@Worse - as you pointed out in earlier posts, other schools provide GPA context without providing class rank or decile. That seems to be the trend. I agree that if PAUSD provides no GPA context that would be unhelpful. But I hope and expect that they will - either some other kind of grade distribution curve (a la Scarsdale or Great Neck), or median and high (a la New Trier), or something else. But it is a bit of a straw man to say that dropping decile info implies they will provide no context - reading the article, I did not reach that conclusion.

Posted by Play , a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 30, 2012 at 10:13 am

As one of the submitters pointed out, they really need to provide context into a students gpa especially the distinction between an A and an A-. My daughter told me that at the college she's attending, they simply recalculate gpas and an A- becomes 3.6. PAUSD treats an A- as a 4.0. And with no class ranks obfuscates things for colleges even more as they don't spend the time to evaluate how tough it is to get an A- on advanced courses in PAUSD relative to most other public schools.

PAUSD needs to do a complete evaluation of all factors and not put our kids at risk. My d had to overcome the A- vs A issue.

Posted by jack, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

What someone needs to tell all these new immigrants pushing up house prices in Palo Alto,
is the following = If you want your kid to get into UC excellent cheap universities you are better to send them to a low scoring high school for one year and if they get in the top 9 percent of that high school UC will take them FOR SURE!

Thats way better chance than being in teh top third at Gunn!

Posted by jack, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 30, 2012 at 11:05 am

Bottom line is that if you are a strong student you are better off at Gunn. And that PAUSD should provide all the information they can including class rank
Admissions officers know full well which schools are best.

And if you are in the top25 percent at Gunn then you are very good indeed.

If you are bottom half of the class at Gunn, frankly you would be better off in an easier high school, where you may have a chance at being in the top 9 percent and so guaranteed a spot at UC.

Posted by Michael O, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 30, 2012 at 5:48 pm

@Worse I understand your points, but Gunn/Paly grads are not "a dime a dozen" I have no idea where you get your rankings. Gunn is ranked #67 by US News and #31 for them for math & science. Most of the top schools are magnet, exam, and charter schools, leaving very few public schools, Gunn amongst the top 10 of them. Deciles are useless metrics for a school that good. Coupled with SATs & AP grades, I'm sure they can figure out who they want just fine. But again, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and we'll just have to see if the admission rates to top schools drops.

The top 2 deciles at Paly are about equal in GPA to the top 3 deciles at Gunn. Same grades. If one were to go by deciles, are Paly kids or Gunn kids doing better? A Gunn student has to get higher grades than a Paly student to be in the top 2 deciles. Are you saying they should be punished for being in the 3rd? Within Palo Alto alone is an example of how meaningless deciles are.

Posted by another Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 30, 2012 at 7:08 pm

@ Worse

"Add to that colleges are actively seeking diversity - ethnic and geographic" - yes, and also legacy is pretty important. Can overrule lower GPA/resume/application. Powerful mommies and daddies and also families/donors play a role. "Hooks" are super big right now - so plan ahead, Tiger Moms! So there are many elements.
School name is something. Private school names still count for a lot, too.
There is no such thing as a completely level playing ground for college acceptances - they cannot be explained away logically in many cases.
Check out the lower GPAs/school records permitted by these recruited college athletes!

there is no definitive "ranking" of US high schools.
US News reigns supreme, esp with college rankings which are only mildly useful. Yet some Tiger Moms take them as absolute gospel, dictating to their kids that only a #1-15 or only an Ivy are acceptable. It is just CRAZY - if you know ANYTHING about the universities in this country, you know it is better to be knowledgeable about MORE of them since there are many with a variety of distinct assets.

Pls be careful not to be dazzled by the # of APs taken etc. (Speaking of HS "rankings" now)

What's more, these "rankings" change year by year.
Some are writing like the schools (PALY, Gunn, and etc.) are static - yet their populations (not to mention, administrators! and to some degree, teaching staff) do change considerably over time.

Posted by Another mom, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2012 at 9:41 pm

College administrators from the top schools are family with our town and our high schools, even how our grade scale measures up to other schools'. The ranking is more likely to hurt all but the top 5 kids' sense of themselves -- where each of them would probably be the top student in another school -- than it is to help college admission.

Where I went to high school, the school was larger than Gunn and you could count the Merit scholars every year on one hand. The ranking made sense there. Here it's a quarter of the students. Very very small differences make a huge difference in the ranking.

Posted by dad, a resident of Midtown
on May 1, 2012 at 11:34 am

Are the students informed periodically of their ranking? Are parents informed as well? I can't remember receiving this info, unless it is part of STAR testing or something.

Posted by Gunn mom, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm

I am glad to see the decile reporting going away. If we spread out the top 30% of the kids from Gunn to all the other schools in CA, they would be in the top 10%. This is also unweighted so that doesn't help explain the true rankings when the majority of kids take honors and AP classes.

The UCs use class ranking as a very important factor and judging by the number of Cal rejections this year, I think many kids were affected by this. We need to let our kids get some Bs and not have them feel like they won't get into college because of it.

Posted by Worse, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 2, 2012 at 7:21 am

Gunn Mom,

CA high schools' UCs admit rates were affected by California budget cuts not by student rankings.

LA Times: "Kate Jeffery, UC's interim director of undergraduate admissions, said Tuesday that more California students 'are being squeezed out' ... and she blamed cuts in state funding"

Web Link

UCs let more out-of-state and international students fill seats that could have gone to CA kids because non-CA kids pay more.

Michael O,

My info was from US News which ranks high schools based on the number of kids taking hard classes, a factor in college admissions decisions. I was reporting Paly's numbers. As you note, Gunn's placement is higher.

Public school students do not have a lock on admissions officers' hearts. Kids from charter, magnet, exam etc schools get into the exact same colleges as our students do.

My source says that for top high schools like ours colleges are not married to strict decile cut offs. But they HAVE to look at grades and, because each school grades differently, they have to be given context to understand if good grades at that school are easy or hard to get.

Reporting decile works quite well but there are other ways - some helpful, some not - to give context too.

In both this article and an earlier one in the Paly Verde where I first read about this no alternatives were mentioned so no one knows if PAUSD plans to provide a helpful replacement or not.

If PAUSD doesn't end up giving GPA context, colleges will make up the context for us and, from what I've been told and posted above, will probably assume "left coast" grade inflation which will hurt all PAUSD kids who work really hard for the grades they get (at least my kid does).

Like you said, colleges can evaluate Palo Alto kids on the number of AP classes they took and their SAT scores instead.

That says to my kid that the number of APs he takes is important, more are better, making my job as parent trying to create balance in his life harder. It also makes high stakes SAT testing even higher stakes and says to all of us that our district believes that the SAT test is a better measure of our students college potential than their grades, which measure learning and effort over an entire year and that they work hard for, are.

Seems completely backwards to me.

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 2, 2012 at 8:47 am

@Worse, while I guess there is a possibility that the district will provide no grade context, that seems like a long-shot to me, since every other school district does. You can load up your kid with AP tests if you like, but probably a talk with your child's counselor will set your mind more at ease.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 2, 2012 at 2:20 pm

At "Huh?": That is exactly the proposal. What would set my student's mind at ease is to know that the people who are making these decisions understand the consequences for all students.

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 2, 2012 at 3:00 pm

@Mom - as I read the article, the district plans to "stop reporting a student's decile ranking." To me that does not mean they will not provide some other GPA context - the article doesn't specify. Do you have additional information?

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm

There seems to be some confusion as to what a class decile ranking is. Please refer to Gunn's website:

Web Link

It includes among other school specific statistics; GPA calculation, class rank, etc. When colleges receive this information, they try to compare our students with other high school seniors world-wide. Gunn has the reputation of inflated GPA already since As and A-s are all 4.0.
There are other high schools with A- as 3.7 and A as 4.0. That's why it is important to include a class rank/decile ranking to clearly represent our students' abilities.

Most high schools who exclude class ranking have a more conservative GPA calculation.

I have already written to our school board members and principal to provide the option of including the class ranking upon student's request. I hope this helps.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 2, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Also see the NY Times article below: potential negative impact for our students' college admission.

Web Link

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 2, 2012 at 6:32 pm

@Gunn Parent - I don't interpret that NYT article from 2006 as potentially negative for "our kids." It basically said that many high schools are doing what Gunn is doing, esp. schools with lots of high performers. One college admissions person (from Vanderbilt) said their internal review showed ranked kids more likely to be admitted - I'm not sure how much influence that one data point (from a school that few Palo Alto kids apply to) should have on our policy. My interpretation of that article is that the high schools are striking back against the college's focus on GPA rank, which they view as detrimental to the development of their students. That's ok with me.

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on May 2, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Huh? The implication is that all students from high schools without class rank may have lower admission rates compare to high schools with a clear profile as stated by Mr. Shain of Vanderbilt in this article.

"But that is a distinctly minority view. Mr. Shain of Vanderbilt said an internal review showed that the admission rate at Vanderbilt was highest for students with a class rank and lowest for those whose schools provided neither a rank nor general data about grades.

"You're saying your grades don't matter and that you won't tell us what they mean," Mr. Shain said. "I think it's an abdication of educational responsibility.""

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Meadow Park
on May 2, 2012 at 9:02 pm

@Gunn Parent - yes, that seems to be Mr. Shain's view based on the analysis of Vandy data from several years ago. It is worth pointing out, I think, that Mr. Shain is no longer at Vandy or any university (he is a consultant, or possibly retired, given that he looks to be about 70). His LinkedIn bio brags that at Vandy and elsewhere that he drove up the number of applications and reduced admission rates. He seems to be a professional admissions person, not really an educator. So while he may achieve his employer's objectives, I'm not sure I would take his views as a guide for policy for Palo Alto schools without a grain of sale. I guess I am thinking he may be part of the problem, rather than a guide to the solution.

Posted by Worse, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm

Gunn Parent,

Extremely helpful NTY quote: "Mr. Shain of Vanderbilt said an internal review showed that the admission rate at Vanderbilt was … lowest for those whose schools provided neither a rank nor general data about grades."

It reaffirms what my college admissions officer friend from a different college said too. (Huh? Yes she's a "professional admissions person" who makes college admissions decisions hence why it is important to listen to her views when it comes to college admissions and no she's not close to 70, not that that matters).


Are you saying that because the number of Paly students who apply to X college is not bigger than Y [fill in the blank] it is OK for PAUSD practices to box them out of having a fair chance to enroll there?

Paly kids should be taking you to the mat for dismissing their "less popular" college choices so summarily. No one with kids in our district should take kindly to district practices that take any college off our kids' college lists either.

How many other college admissions officers feel the same way as Mr. Shain at Vanderbilt did? My guess: PAUSD has NO idea. Until that research is done, it is way too premature to make this change.

In as tough a college admission climate as our kids are facing now, you'd think that PAUSD would be bending over backwards to make our kids as attractive to as many different colleges as possible, not less.

The fact is that no Paly kid has a clue what his decile ranking is unless he asks and even then it is not available until well into the senior year. Perhaps some will be unhappy senior year when they discover that their GPA is not the best at the school. That seems like a small price to pay compared to the disappointment that they don't get to spend the next 4 years at the college best for their major, family and pocket book because PAUSD kept information from that colleges which, armed with that data, might otherwise have accepted them.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 3, 2012 at 6:41 am

The GPA decile rankings are available by the beginning of the senior year because they are currently sent with the school profile and the transcript. The GPA deciles are based on the class standing at the end of junior year.

Posted by Huh?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on May 3, 2012 at 7:27 am

@Worse - I'm not interested in getting in an argument with you, so I'll skip over your inflammatory language. I'm expect you are wrong, though, when you write that you believe PAUSD staff have no idea of what college admissions staff look for and how their process works. Do you think that is the same for New Trier and the many others schools (some cited above) who have removed decile information?

Given that we are not pioneers here, and that many other top schools have stopped reporting deciles over the last several years and more seem to be doing so, catastrophic failure is not a big concern.

I'm curious - why do you have such a low estimation of the PAUSD staff, in terms of their thoughtfulness and motivations? In my interactions with them, limited but certainly they add up over the years, I have found the current regime quite capable and concerned with doing a good job in a complicated environment. I find it surprising that some folks think they can point out "obvious" mistakes from the comfort of their sofa.

Posted by Parent of a Gunn Student, a resident of Gunn High School
on Nov 5, 2012 at 2:46 am

I have a child on the Autism Spectrum, very bright, but with specific and well-documented learning disabilities. Despite these disabilities, because she BUSTS HER BUTT ALL THE TIME on studying and homework (ergo: she has almost no life outside school and homework, because the Gunn environment encourages this attitude), no matter that it takes her quite a bit more time than any student without her learning disabilities, she still has a 3.82 GPA at Gunn. (I only wish she could get more SLEEP, because I am sure it's not good for her health to work so hard.)

My child really would prefer to engage in more extra-curricular and community-enrichment activities (she loves community service!) because of the intrinsic personal value of these behaviors, and it really pains her that she has to make the choice between studying and daily physical therapy (she has physical disabilities too) and any extra-curricular activities. She simply is really not able to make time for everything!!!

I applaud Gunn's rejection of "student ranking deciles"; those would only be even more harmful to a special-needs student with learning disabilities who is already doing their best to perform above and beyond the "call of duty" in a Palo Alto school.

Posted by another Paly parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2012 at 11:30 am

Wow. I don't have students who are scary smart and they probably would benefit a lot by this policy, but I have a different take on it altogether.

Rather than argue the nuances and project how our students applications will be perceived by the college admissions officers, what is so wrong with providing ALL the information about the student (GPA, rank, decile, you name it) and the school (rigor of the program, school SATs, state rank, whatever)? Transparency and information is important.

Each college admissions office has their own way of handling the growing mountain of applications. Some schools will go the extra distance to read deeper into Paly/Gunn applications because they "know" our schools' reputations... i.e., they might not toss aside the application based solely on the rank/GPA criteria. And we need to have confidence that our students will be accepted into those schools where they are valued members of the student body. If they are rejected at schools based solely on rank/GPA, well, they might not be happy at those schools anyway.

However, withholding information only makes it harder for college admissions officers to read applications. Why would we want to be perceived as making their jobs more difficult? And with everyone under so much more pressure these days to do more with less, that seems just crazy and disrespectful. Withholding information is not fair to any student or to any college admissions office.

Now, to dig out my fireproof suit. Let the flames begin...

Posted by match, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm

another paly parent,

"what is so wrong with providing ALL the information about the student (GPA, rank, decile, you name it) and the school (rigor of the program, school SATs, state rank, whatever)? Transparency and information is important.

Unless admissions demand it, "all" information may be unnecessary.

Colleges likely want complete information on the applicant, and "more" than their requirements could be overkill. I would think desirable matches will anyway stand out to the schools irrespective of gpa ranking.

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