Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent for Instruction Ashley Ellis presented three options for determining students’ class rank to the Loudoun County School Board during its Tuesday meeting.
The board ultimately voted for Option 2, which accounts for all students in class rank calculations, including those who opted for a “Pass” evaluation, or “P,” in lieu of a standard letter grade for one or more courses. This means classes for which a student chooses to be designated a “P” will not be factored into his or her GPA.
Option 1 would have meant excluding students from class rank calculations if they have chosen to take a “Pass” in a class. Option 3, like Option 2, would have included all students in class rank, though the GPAs of those taking one or more “Ps” would be excluded.
During the meeting’s public comment section, several parents of rising seniors criticized Option 1 in that its removal of a number of students from the class rankings would shrink the class size denominator, thereby pulling remaining students into lower percentile groups.
“By excluding students who elect a ‘P’ in class rank, this directly impacts the high-achieving students negatively,” mother Jenny Chow said. “The rising seniors are being affected by COVID-19 the most in my opinion: difficulty in registering for standardized tests; all spring sports being canceled; extracurricular activities [and] summer plans, canceled. Please do not add another obstacle to their plate.”
“Why should one student’s pass-fail choice affect the ranking percentiles of every student who remains ranked above him or her,” father Frank Monastero said. “In short, it should have no effect at all.”
Ellis acknowledged that there are certain challenges that come with Option 2, particularly that it will entail a certain level of GPA inflation. However, after asking nearby school systems about their plans regarding class rank, LCPS staff found that two divisions had chosen a largely similar route.
“Both of the divisions we heard back from essentially are moving forward with Option 2, recognizing that it’s not a perfect system, but including all students in the class size,” Ellis said.
According to Ellis, LCPS staff deemed Option 3 inadvisable, as it would require a negative — or fake — GPA to be created for each student who chooses a “P.” Each such student would then essentially have two high school transcripts, one of which would display the negative GPA.
“We have explored this option extensively … and we feel strongly that this is not practical, due to the complexity and the margin of error,” Ellis said. “We have to think long-term about these transcripts following these students well beyond June of 2020.”
Board members weighed their options after Ellis’ presentation, beginning with Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District), who opined sticking with Option 1 would be unfair to students, though it might appear “more equitable” at first glance.
“This wasn’t presented as part of the choice when our students were deciding whether to do Quarter 3 work … or to begin their work in Quarter 4,” Reaser said. “If this had been our plan all along, I think I would be able to support it better, but as it stands, I’m concerned about the choices the students made and the inequity to them after a month of time passing.”
Leslee King (Broad Run District) expressed distaste with the fact that Option 2 would cause some students who select “Ps” for final class grades to receive an undeserved GPA boost, as their GPAs would be calculated based only on the classes in which they received traditional letter grades.
“This could affect those who are higher up and choose all their grades to be counted. It could bring them down even more,” King said. “I don’t think the board wants to do that. … I think Option 2 and Option 3 are going to be more dissatisfactory for our constituents.”
Conversely, Beth Barts (Leesburg District) argued that Option 1 would do greater injustice to high-achieving students, echoing the sentiments of several parents who offered earlier comment.
“We have to really think long and hard about what Option 1 is doing, not to the kids that are taking the P, but to the kids [who] — through no fault of their own — have done nothing but take the grades that they earned,” Barts said. “My concern [is] that the repercussions for all of the students will be much higher with Option 1 than with Option 2.”
She also cited the Common App, a program through which many universities accept applications, when arguing the challenges Option 1 would give students who opt for “Ps.”
“On the Common App, it does not ask, ‘Does your school give you options for rank?’ It asks specifically, ‘Do you rank, and if so, what percentile are you?’” Barts said. “If your school does not rank, you simply say no. There is no [option reading], ‘Well, it does for some, but not for others.’”
Barts eventually made the motion to select Option 2, which Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn District) seconded. The measure passed 7-1-1, with King opposed and Jeff Morse (Dulles District) absent for the vote.
According to LCPS documents, families may submit a request for a “P” as a final evaluation between June 12 and 15 via electronic Permission Click forms. These forms will be made available on every middle- and high-school website in the division. Final report cards are scheduled for distribution June 20.
Tuesday’s Loudoun County School Board meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/425097061.