By Terry Dean
High schools across Illinois in recent years have been doing away with class rankings for students, and Oak Park and River Forest High School might follow suit.
An increasing number of districts have eliminated the numerical rankings in the last decade, said Phil Prale, OPRF's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. At OPRF, upperclassmen are ranked based on the average of grades accumulated in their courses. The rankings show up on students' transcripts, which are considered by colleges and universities in admitting students.
If eliminated, OPRF would replace class rankings with a new system highlighting a student's grade point average and SAT scores. Other suburban Chicago school districts, including New Trier and Maine Township, have ditched class rankings. Prale said OPRF is in the very early discussion stages about doing the same. Eliminating rankings would reduce competition among students and between school districts, Prale explained. That's also been one of the motivators for other school districts, he said.
Prale brought the matter to the District 200 school board last month. The board urged OPRF administrators to get feedback from parents. Two parent forums are scheduled for Jan. 22 and Feb. 4 at the high school.
"We have not taken a position on this. We're just listening right now," said Prale, who also plans to meet with the Huskie Boosters and other parent groups individually this month.
There is an unfair aspect to ranking students, Prale noted. A numerical rank doesn't always accurately assess a student's overall academic experience. Students with relatively low ranking are put at a disadvantage when seeking college admission, Prale said. OPRF, he added, would consider ranking students as a percentile grouping as opposed to a specific number, something a few other districts have switched to.
"Our goal is to increase options for kids after high school, to focus more on their overall experience. That's really what this is about," Prale said.
If the school makes any change, it won't take effect until the 2014-2015 school year with that year's senior class.
According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling, more and more schools nationwide — nearly 50 percent — have stopped numerically ranking students. It's a trend, Prale noted, that colleges and universities are open to and have been anticipating.
"They want to get as much information as possible. That's what we've heard from the universities we've talked to," Prale said. "They know it's been an ongoing trend and they said they can adjust. What's really important to them is academic rigor, the overall academic program of the school."
Along with cumulative grade averages, some schools factor in the difficulty level of courses in calculating class ranking. Rankings for OPRF juniors and seniors occurs twice a year, in early fall and again in February, said Jennifer Hoffman, OPRF's assistant principal for student services. Graduating seniors receive one final ranking in July, Hoffman said. You won't find rankings on a student's report card, and Prale noted it's not a major topic of discussion among students.
But the subject is raised from time to time by parents.
"Occasionally, it's brought up by a parent. It's usually parents with friends in other districts that have eliminated rankings. Then we'll hear our parents ask, 'What are we doing about this?'"
Eliminating rankings doesn't require action by the OPRF school board because it's been an administrative practice historically and not board policy. Prale said the administration would seek the board's endorsement, however, before making any changes.
Students receive G.P.A. credit for music, newspaper courses
Oak Park and River Forest High School students taking music classes, as well as those working on the campus newspaper, will have those grades counted in their grade point averages.
That wasn't the case until this school year, said Phil Prale, OPRF's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. That changed occurred beginning last fall and had been discussed for a couple of years. Students working on Trapeze, OPRF's student-run newspaper, will see that grade calculated in their G.P.A., as will those working on Tabula, the student yearbook. OPRF's Newscene broadcasting course will now also be counted. Other courses, such as P.E. classes and driver's education, however, are still not counted in a G.P.A.