Class rank decision at Farmington High School rankles parents, school board

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 10, 2013 - 2:22 PM

Parents, students and the school board were frustrated when the Farmington High School administration announced plans to stop reporting class rank last month.

A seemingly rash decision to stop reporting class rank has rankled some Farmington High School parents, students and even the school board — and as a result, the administration will take a step back and discuss the issue more thoroughly with community members.

In mid-August, parents of high school students received word from Principal Ben Kusch that the school would no longer report class rank, following similar decisions by many metro-area districts over the past five years.

His letter invited parents to an informational meeting the next week. Kusch also presented his case at an Aug. 26 school board meeting. On both occasions, parents and students expressed concern with both the decision itself and how it was made.

“There was some pretty immediate response to that,” said Kusch. “Folks were very concerned; folks had a lot of questions about this decision.”

Parents also sent many frustrated e-mails to the board, according to board member Tera Lee. Lee said that though the administration wasn’t obligated to inform the board of such a decision, “I feel like they didn’t communicate properly with us, nor the parents, because … if you’re going to make a big decision that affects so many students, the parents should be in on the process.”

Kusch apologized for how the decision was made and for not involving parents and students sooner. After board members requested more data and further rationalization, Kusch vowed to seek additional community input before making a decision.

Though the issue had been on his radar for the last year or two, Kusch said he took action because counselors “were seeing some of the negative fallout associated with reporting class rank” for some time. “For a lot of these students, they can’t wait because if we wait a year, the negative effects of reporting class rank continue,” Kusch said.

Though he’s open to hearing varied opinions on the issue, “As I look at the data that’s out there … I still think it’s definitely the right direction to go,” he said.

Class rank, or where a student’s grade point average (GPA) stands relative to other students, is often reported to admissions counselors as part of the college application process, along with GPA and ACT or SAT scores. Increasingly, however, schools are moving away from tracking class rank, Kusch explained.

About half of schools nationally no longer report it, he said, with no negative consequences. In the metro area, districts like Edina, Minnetonka, Hopkins and West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan no longer track class rank.

A major reason for eliminating class rank is that it may not give an accurate picture of how a student is doing academically. Though dozens students clustered at the top might be separated by only a fraction of a percentage point, their rank could be dramatically different.

Meanwhile, a student with a 3.2 GPA might not even be in the top half of his or her class, keeping them from getting into colleges with rigid admissions policies, Kusch said. Counselors have told him that rank can be a roadblock, he said.

“Can it be a barrier for some of our students?” Kusch asked. “If the answer to that is yes, what if we can remove that limiting factor and hold others harmless? Isn’t that a worthwhile thing to do?”

Most of the pushback has come from parents of high-achieving students, Lee said. “[Concerns] ranged from, ‘Students worked hard for their rank and it wasn’t fair to take that away from them,’ all the way to the other end: ‘Where is there data to support this?’” Lee said.

Jim Peroutky attended both the information session and the board meeting. The parent of two Farmington graduates and a current sophomore, he said he was concerned that the decision was made before feedback was sought. He said that being ranked in the top five in her class helped his daughter, Rachael, who graduated last spring, get into Carleton College. When applying for scholarships, “Having that high rank helped her get those,” he said.

“To be honest, I don’t see how it’s hurting a kid,” he said. “There are colleges out there for everybody.”

Mariah Geiger, a junior at Macalester College, attended the board meeting with her parents. Geiger ranked in the top five in Farmington’s class of 2011 and has a sister who is a senior.

She said she sees advantages and disadvantages to reporting rank.

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