School Board Alters Class Ranking System, After Parent Objections

After a wave of objections from parents of rising seniors, the Loudoun School Board on Tuesday altered its plans for calculating class rank in light of the unplanned conversion to distance learning following the COVID-19 closure of classes. 

Among the allowances for students entering the uncharted territory of exclusively online learning was the option to take a pass/not pass grade for some courses. Under the original plan to incorporate those grades into the class ranking system, students who take that option would be dropped out. 

The unintended consequence of that approach is that some students on the cusp of ranking in top 5 or 10 percent of their class could be bumped down if their ranking is calculated on a smaller number of ranked students overall. Parents said admission to top colleges, more favorable tuition rates and scholarship money could be on the line. 

During the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting, several parents said the ranking change wouldn’t be fair to their students. They wanted rankings to continue to be based on the total class size regardless of how many opted for the pass/no pass grades and were excluded.

Staff members said that approach would be too complex, and too risky, requiring the creation of two ranking lists that could easily get mixed up and hurt students down the line. View the staff presentation here.

The board backed an alternate proposal that could still end up displacing some of the top performers. Under that procedure, students’ classes with “pass” grades will be excluded from grade point average calculations used to determine class rank. That means a student theoretically could achieve a 4.0 by taking “pass” grades for all classes below an A, potentially inflating their GPA performance. 

Beth Barts (Leesburg) was among the board members who preferred to exclude “pass/not pass” students from the rankings, but retain the full class size as the basis for the calculations. However, she made the motion to support the alternative staff proposal as the best available option.

She said pointed to a student hoping to attend Clemson University with the opportunity to qualify for the lower, in-state tuition rate if she finished in the top 10 percent of her class.

“She did nothing but take her grade and work as hard as she can,” Barts said, noting that her ranking could be impacted by students opting for a “pass” grade. 

Under the school division’s policy, a passing grade can be awarded for scores of D or better. 

The change was approved on a 7-1-1 vote, with Leslee King (Broad Run) opposed and Jeff Morse (Dulles) absent for the vote. 

A slide showing how the exclusion of “pass” grades would impact students
grade point averages.

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