Loudoun County Public Schools may do away with numerical class rank in the next few years in favor of the percentile-based Latin honors system, according to Loudoun County School Board documents.
The new system recommended by the School Board’s Curriculum & Instruction Committee would use grade point average segments, designating students in the top 5 percent of their class Summa Cum Laude, the top 10 percent of students Magna Cum Laude and the top 20 percent Cum Laude.
Should the board approve the system, it would be phased in with the LCPS Class of 2023, currently high school sophomores.
LCPS staff listed several concerns with the current ranking system, stating: It discourages students from taking non-weighted courses “to explore interests and talents;” it impacts students’ mental health by defining their value “solely based on grades;” it can negatively affect academically strong students; and college admissions offices no longer prioritize class rank.
Added cons of the current system listed in board documents included the stress factor for students “struggl[ing] with perfectionism and low self-esteem,” its potentially inaccurate reflection of student achievement and the fact that it is influenced by the size of a graduating class.
To support the idea that class rank impacts high-performing students, staff cited the Freedom High School Class of 2020, in which a student with a 4.0 GPA reportedly ended up ranked 195th out of 484 students.
Staff did acknowledge a few pros of the current system, noting: It fuels possible scholarship opportunities, recognizes the highest-performing students for their efforts and serves as an incentive for many students to achieve.
However, staff added there are several “barriers to leveling the playing field” for GPA in the school system’s graduating classes, including the vacillating number of credentialed staff for Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment courses, as well as the generally great demand for these courses and the lessened opportunity for “vulnerable” students to complete them.
Officials cited the means neighboring school systems use to rank students, including those in Arlington, Fairfax, Henrico and Prince William Counties, as well as Alexandria and Virginia Beach.
Per documents, schools in Alexandria, Fairfax County, Prince William County and one school in Arlington County either no longer employ numerical class rank or will soon discontinue it. Alexandria schools currently use a percentile-based ranking similar to that LCPS is considering.
The C&I Committee was originally scheduled to present their recommendation as an information item Sept. 8 but did not due to time constraints. The Sept. 22 board meeting also ended before the presentation could occur.
Class rank is not a newly controversial topic within LCPS, as Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Ashley Ellis brought the idea of eliminating numerical rank to the School Board in May. A month later, the board voted on how to determine class rank for the Class of 2020, whose school experience was heavily affected by the COVID-19 health crisis.