No more GPA ranking at Montgomery County Schools

After years of consideration, changes take effect for class of '19

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. – The Montgomery County Public Schools district is getting rid of its ranking system, which orders high school students by their grade point average.

After three years of discussions and research, school board members voted unanimously Tuesday to change to a broader system that puts high-achieving students into one of three categories. The plan includes eliminating the recognition of a valedictorian.

The district will still use weighted GPA, which colleges can see. The changes will take effect this school year, beginning with the class of 2019.

School board members said the system was detrimental to some students, and they believe their research showed this is the right move.

School board member Mark Cherbaka said at first, he was skeptical, but the research, combined with opinions from parents and students, convinced him.

“The kids were really short-changing themselves and their education in pursuit of this competition for the highest GPA,” Cherbaka said.

Some students feel taking as many weighted classes as possible, including advanced placement classes that give college credit, gives them an edge when applying to college because it can push their GPA over 4.0.

Board members feel that if students focus on their rank, it can put too much pressure on them, and push them to not take electives that might be beneficial, like fine arts or technical education classes.

Plus, students at smaller schools might be excelling but not be able to make the top 10 percent because of how few students there are in their class.

“You’re basically saying that academic excellence is something that’s scarce. It’s something that’s limited,” Cherbaka said. “We really want to focus on academic excellence being a standard that many can achieve, not just a select few.”

School board members noted that reports say far fewer colleges are looking at class rank when deciding which students to accept. The findings show that, last year, only 9 percent of college admissions officials thought that class rank had “considerable importance.” That figure is down from 42 percent in 1993.

"Why are we doing this to our kids and helping them do it to themselves when colleges aren't even really doing this anymore?" Cherbaka said.

The College Board has said more than half of high schools nationwide no longer report class rank.

The school district will recognize high-achieving students in three categories.

Distinguished scholar: 4.0 GPA or higher
Scholar: 3.80 to 3.99 GPA
Honor graduate: 3.60 to 3.79 GPA

Some parents and students have spoken up against the change during this process, including during a meeting last month.

On the 10 News Facebook page, Jay Moose said: “So everybody gets a participation ribbon? Where is the incentive to excel?”

But many people are in favor of taking away the ranking. On Facebook, Sandi Saunders said: “It sounds like they did their homework and came up with the best plan for the student's future.”

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