Many high schools opting out of ranking students

Information void forces college recruiters to focus on other areas

March 05, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Application files are piled high this month in colleges across the country. Admissions officers are poring over essays and recommendation letters, scouring transcripts and standardized test scores.

But something is missing from many applications: a class ranking, once a major component in admissions decisions.

In the cat-and-mouse maneuvering over admission to prestigious colleges and universities, thousands of high schools have simply stopped providing that information, concluding that it could harm the chances of good students.

Canny college officials, in turn, have found a tactical way to respond. Using broad data that high schools often provide, like a distribution of grade averages for an entire senior class, they essentially recreate an applicant's class rank.

The process has left them exasperated.

"If we're looking at your son or daughter and you want us to know that they are among the best in their school, without a rank we don't necessarily know that," said Jim Bock, dean of admissions and financial aid at Swarthmore College.

William M. Shain, dean of undergraduate admissions at Vanderbilt University, said, "There's a movement these days to not let anybody know that a kid has done better than other kids."

Admissions directors say the strategy can backfire. When high schools do not provide enough general information to recreate the class rank calculation, many admissions directors say they have little choice but to do something many want them to do: give more weight to scores on the SAT and other standardized exams.

But high schools persist. The Miami-Dade County School Board decided last month to discontinue class rankings. Jeanne Friedman, the principal of Miami Beach High School and chairwoman of a committee of principals that lobbied to end ranking, said principals thought it would cut down on competition in schools and force college admissions officials to look more closely at each applicant.

"When you don't rank, then they have to look at the total child," Friedman said.

The shift away from class rank began with private schools making calculations that admissions officers might not look favorably on a student with an A-minus average and strong SAT scores who ranked 25th or 35th in a talented class of 150 students.

But the movement has accelerated over the past five years or so, many deans of admissions say. Now nearly 40 percent of all high schools have either stopped ranking their students or have ceased to give that information to colleges, according to a survey released last year by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which represents high school guidance counselors and college admissions officers.

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