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updated: 4/17/2012 11:24 PM

St. Charles schools may eliminate class ranking

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High school students in St. Charles Unit District 303 may less time worrying about how they rank academically against their peers and more time exploring subjects and activities they are actually interested in. The district may end the practice of ranking its students, joining a nationwide trend away from the practice.

District officials announced the possible elimination of class ranks Tuesday night at the latest installment of the Summit 303 meetings.

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"We are exploring the possibility of eliminating class rankings because it creates unnecessary pressure on our students," said St. Charles East High School Principal Charlie Kyle. "That's definitely not in the best interest of our students."

Kyle said students become so obsessed with the rankings that they forgo taking classes that genuinely interest them for the sake of maintaining or improving their rank. In general, honors and advanced placement courses help a student's rank while other classes, particularly in the arts, can hurt a ranking. In one specific instance, participants in the summit said district students interested in becoming doctors are avoiding taking anatomy because it's not offered at the honors level.

Kyle said District 303's high schools typically feature student rankings that come down to tenths of percents between the top 10 or 20 students.

"When I was a student a B was OK," Kyle said. "That student who gets a B is right in the middle or lower half of our students now."

Because the summits are community forums, district officials received some immediate feedback on the idea of eliminating the ranking system. No parent, student, teacher or local taxpayer said they hated the idea. But no one wanted to rush to eliminate the long-standing practice either.

Students in attendance said a compromise solution could involve maintaining the ranking system but keeping it private from students and parents so class rank isn't on student minds every time a test is taken. Students said they still wanted some ability to report a class rank if they applied to colleges or for scholarships that placed great importance on class rank.

District officials said most state schools, including the University of Illinois and Northwestern University don't consider class rank. Nor do Princeton or the University of Michigan. District officials did not provide information about which institutions do factor in class rank, and audience members said they'd like to hear more about the positive aspects of the ranking system.

There are institutions, such as West Point and other military schools, that consider class rank to be a very important aspect of evaluating a student's application. Other colleges attempt to recreate rankings based on broad data high schools sometimes provide to weigh an application, or simply place more emphasis on a student's SAT or ACT scores if a grade-point average can't be placed into the context of the applicant's peers.

District staff members said they've been in discussions with other local high schools that have eliminated rankings to determine ways to provide similar information when a student's school of choice absolutely wants ranking information. Officials have a large pool of peers to draw advice from. About 40 percent of all high schools in the country have eliminated their ranking systems. That includes schools in the Barrington, Wheaton, Naperville and New Trier districts.

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