School board delays vote on decile rankings

Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board directors on Feb. 22 tabled a vote on whether or not to stop reporting students’ decile rankings to colleges and universities.

The decile ranking divides students into 10 categories based on their grade point average. It reflects their standing within the class, whether they are in the top 10 percent of the class or lower. Currently, the district includes those rankings during a student’s college application process.

The issue dominated the two-and-a-half hour meeting with parents, students and directors offering their views.

Parents in favor of keeping the current system of reporting the rankings stressed the benefits of competition and academic achievement, saying that reporting the rankings to prospective colleges is an incentive for students to work hard.

Those opposed say it only benefits students in the top 10 percent of the class and hurts the others.

Former Director Kathy Do and candidate Beverly Brookes argued to end reporting the rankings.

Brookes said that one of the complaints she heard while running for the board was that “Unionville School District tends to ignore the average to above average students. A great deal of accolades go to the top 10 percent, and a lot of attention is paid to the special needs students, but the remaining 80 percent seem to be left in limbo,” Brookes said.

She also told the board that the education professionals in the district have recommended doing away with reporting the rankings.

“I urge you to support their professional judgment,” she said. “This action will help the entire school population.”

Do said it’s the board’s responsibility to do what’s best for the entire community “or at best, do no harm. Eliminating decile ranking is a textbook example of an opportunity for you to serve the best interest of the great majority of the students while doing no harm to the remainder of the students.”

She cited her son’s high school experience with music and sports, saying the district allows him and other students to pursue their passions.

“He’s a good student who takes AP and honors classes along with the un-weighted music classes. His GPA is very good, by national standards it’s excellent but, at slightly below 4.0, by Unionville standards he is just above average,” Do said.

The only way her son can get his average into a higher decile would be to give up some of the music or sports activities, the things he loves doing. She said that would be counter to the “holistic” educational approach that the district has said it favors.

Several students also spoke, two said the reporting of decile rankings should be stopped, but one told the board he wants it kept.

Brad Saunders, a junior at UHS, said he made many conscious decisions to make education a priority and that he’s put in “a lot of work so I can be a top student. I feel that these decisions should be rewarded and that the rankings provide colleges with a valuable data point that demonstrates to them the ability of a student.”

He added that removing academic rankings would be just as unjust as removing athletic rankings.

However, board members and parents cited a meeting with various college admissions officers earlier this month in which those officers said the schools, one being Penn State, don’t use decile rankings in their admission process.

Resident Colleen Boyle said the criteria used are grade point average, high school recommendations, college interviews, college essays and extra curricular activities.

None of the school directors said they were in favor of continuing to report the decile rankings, but none were sure of the best way to proceed. Most said they wanted more information.

They are questioning if it should be replaced with something else, dropped entirely beginning with the Class of 2017 or to discontinue the practice beginning with the Class of 2020, students who are currently in eighth grade.

Director Gregg Lindner said the ranking should be dropped entirely if it’s detrimental.

“That’s what I want to do. I believe it’s detrimental,” Lindner said.

Elise Anderson said there’s strong evidence to remove the ranking system, but she’s not 100 percent convinced that doing so wouldn’t hurt the top 10 percent of the students. She wants more data, she said.

John Murphy, too, said he wasn’t ready to act on the matter, a view shared by most of the others.

Michael Rock, a professor at Bryn Mawr College, said that school doesn’t consider the ranking at all.

“Unionville has a top ranking, that’s what gets kids into the top schools…Decile rankings don’t mean a hill of beans,” Rock said.

Another director, Bob Sage, said the current policy is harmful to students not in the top 1 percent of their class and that other schools have made the change. However, he thinks dropping the reporting altogether might hurt the top students and that the district needs to find a solution that benefits all students.

The board is expected to make some decision during its March meeting.

About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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