Oak Park-River Forest students won’t be ranked
Oak Park-River Forest High School will no longer provide the individual class ranking for students, starting with the Class of 2015. | File Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 29, 2013 10:04AM
OAK PARK — Starting with the Class of 2015, Oak Park and River Forest High School no longer will provide individual class rankings for students, removing one element of competition for college admissions.
“What will come to matter more is the student’s GPA and the student’s GPA in the core areas,” said Philip Prale, the school’s assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. “When you remove a piece of data from the pool, the other data becomes more important.”
Grade point average will continue to be used for student honors, such as Scholarship Cup winners, OPRF’s version of valedictorians, Prale said.
“We still will retain all recognitions that are currently in place,” he said.
Spokeswoman Mary Ann Fergus said the Illinois State Board of Education does not keep track of how many schools have eliminated class rankings. Some schools known to have abandoned class rankings in the past several years are Arlington Heights-based Township High School District 214, Lake Zurich School District 95 and Barrington High School District 220.
The elimination of class rankings appears to be a trend among higher-performing and more affluent schools. Some highly competitive schools reported that rankings are unfair when they consider the students in the bottom quartile at their schools more competitive than students in the top quartile at others.
Though the issue of ranking technically is an administrative decision that could have been implemented without board approval, Prale said OPRF officials felt it was important to get community buy-in. That’s why he led two sparsely attended community forums in January and February on the matter.
The measure was approved by the District 200 school board in February.
“We wanted to be fully transparent,” Prale said.
OPRF counselors also were instructed to reach out to the post-secondary institutions with which they had relationships.
“We got pretty consistent information back from the colleges,” Prale said. “They said they would adjust and there was a trend of high schools moving away from individual rank.”
Some colleges also revealed they have been building their own databases to track student success based on the high schools they attended, Prale said.
“Now comparison is not only of students against other OPRF students but against the OPRF experience as experienced by the college,” he said.
One local school already has nearly four decades of experience without class rankings.
When he was a junior counselor in the early 1970s, Richard Borsch, now Fenwick High School’s assistant principal for Student Services, said he figured out that class ranking wasn’t in the best interests of the majority of students. With a student body drawn from dozens of towns and school districts, Borsch said he felt it was unfair to label students because a comparison of their records wasn’t really apples to apples since their prior experiences were so varied.
In addition, class ranks didn’t take into consideration the “academic sloper,” as Borsch calls them, students who may have started off high school weak but truly excelled as they matured.
“My feeling was after teaching these kids, we were de facto labeling half of these kids as lower class kids with no justification,” he said. “Eliminating class ranks has played a huge part in recovering academic credibility.”
Though it was more unusual at the time, Borsch said he’d heard of some maverick schools that had eliminated class rankings and approached the administration in 1972 with the idea of doing that at Fenwick.
“We haven’t looked back since,” he said.
Eliminating class rankings certainly hasn’t hurt Fenwick, whose graduates go on to study just about everywhere, from MIT to Stanford.
“It was a risk in some people’s minds. My feeling is looking where our kids have matriculated, I think our kids get a fairer look,” he said. “I think it really forces the colleges to look at the curriculum, to look at how the children really challenge themselves.”
With class rankings out of the picture, colleges and universities must take a more holistic look at the student’s record, including grades, difficulty of classes completed, test scores, activities and admissions essays, Borsch said.
Many colleges and universities actually rely on the high school class rankings of their students in marketing materials to attract future students. However, with an increasing number of high schools eliminating class rankings, more colleges and universities are adding disclaimers, such as “ For students who supply rank.”
In fact, according to a 2012 National Association for College Admission Counseling report, nearly 50 percent of high schools have stopped ranking students. As a result about 42 percent of post-secondary institutions considered class rankings highly important to the admissions process in 1993, but that dropped to about 19 percent by 2011.
Gwen Kanelos, assistant vice president for enrollment at Concordia University in River Forest, has more than 20 years’ experience working in admissions at several colleges and universities. In that time, she said, she’s seen the importance of class rankings diminish.
“From my sense its use is declining at a rapid pace,” she said. “It’s a little blip on the row. We’re not going to be concerned about it because so many schools don’t do it any more.”
As she sifts through the 3,000 applications for traditional undergraduate admissions, Kanelos said the most important factor is the overall quality of the transcript.
“We’re trying to make sure we are recruiting students to our university who are the best fit for us,” she said. “We’re looking at not even just their grades, but how challenging were the courses they took and did they continue to challenge themselves through the senior year?”