LCPS budget approval - Mahedavi, Sheridan

From left, Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn District) and Loudoun County School Board Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) vote during a meeting on Feb. 4.

The Loudoun County School Board voted Tuesday night to discontinue a numerical class rank system starting with next year’s Loudoun County Public Schools freshman class, opting instead for a percentile-based Latin Honor System.

Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles District) was the sole dissenter in the 8-1 vote, which resulted from a motion by Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn District).

According to board documents, the new system will use grade point average “cut points” for the top 5 to 20 percent of students in each graduating class. Those with a GPA in the top 5 percent will be labeled “Summa Cum Laude,” while the top 10 and 20 percent would receive “Magna Cum Laude” and “Cum Laude” status, respectively.

LCPS staff has listed several concerns with a numerical ranking system, saying it discourages students from taking non-weighted courses, impacts their mental health and can negatively affect academically strong students. Further, staff indicated numerical class rank is no longer a priority for many college admissions offices.

The School Board’s Curriculum & Instruction Committee initially recommended the board phase in the change with the Class of 2023, currently high school sophomores. However, Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District) moved to amend the draft resolution to begin with the Class of 2025, saying she wishes to “limit the amount of change” current high-schoolers are going through in an already turbulent year.

“It makes better sense to me to allow that change to come in with next year’s freshman class,” she said. “They can just come into high school all on the same page … instead of changing it for current 10th-graders who are taking [Advanced Placement] classes and have perhaps structured their choices based on [numerical class rank].”

Beth Barts (Leesburg District), who seconded Mahedavi’s base motion, did not favor Reaser’s proposed amendment, reasoning that since LCPS does not officially rank students until the 11th grade, implementing the change for current sophomores would be acceptable.

“To me, it seems inappropriate to pass a policy that actually isn’t going to go into effect for four years,” she said. “I think what we’re doing to our children by ranking them is not helping their mental health … We’re actually doing a disservice to many of our students by ranking them in Loudoun County.”

Rebutting Barts’s point, John Beatty (Catoctin District) said, “Even if you’re not being ranked as a freshman or sophomore, if you’re the kind of student that’s going to be shooting for a ranking, I think you’re working on that as a freshman or a sophomore. Even if you don’t know your rank, that’s something you’re focusing on.”

Reaser’s amendment carried 6-3, with Barts, Mahedavi and Denise Corbo (At-Large) opposed.

Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) then proposed a second amendment to allow for each graduating class to still have a valedictorian and salutatorian, but his motion failed for lack of a second.

Though he voted in favor of Reaser’s amendment, Morse ultimately disapproved of the base motion, citing community feedback he had previously received on the issue.

“The student who would’ve been in the 11th percentile is now in the 20th. The student who would have been in the 21st is now not ranked at all,” Morse said. “We may be relieving the pressure at the very top, because they don’t have to be the No. 1 — they’ll be in the top five — but I assure you that our students are still pressured.”

He added that while some colleges are moving away from prioritizing class rank for admissions, they are putting more weight on the SAT and students’ GPA, the former of which can prove particularly challenging for English-learning students.

“We [will increase] the challenge of an EL student who is at the top of their class by putting all of their pressure on an exam — not all of it, because the GPA is still there, but more pressure,” Morse said. “We’re not eliminating anything. What we’re doing is rearranging the chairs a little bit and calling this good.”

Answering a question from Barts, LCPS Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Ashley Ellis said students’ Latin Honor System designations will be included on their transcripts, as well as an explanation of the new, percentile-based method.

By eschewing numerical rank, LCPS will be following the example of schools in Alexandria, Fairfax County and Prince William County, as well as one school in Arlington County, per school system officials.

Tuesday’s Loudoun County School Board meeting is available to view in full at vimeo.com/472696026.

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