Class rank will soon be a thing of the past in Howard County public schools.
Incoming Howard County seniors will be the last graduating class to receive a number indicating where they finished among their peers at the end of their high school career.
Class rank will disappear from Howard’s 12 high schools at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.
For the past two years, the school system has discussed eliminating class rank, according to Caroline Walker, Howard schools’ executive director of program innovation and student well-being.
“We worked with colleges and came to the conclusion that we felt comfortable getting rid of it,” Walker said.
Colleges “do want to see students take rigorous courses, so it’s really important that students take rigorous courses and get decent grades … [but] they are less concerned with how we rank them [students] because they really do it themselves,” she said.
Providing a class rank in a high school setting does not “impede their [students’] college acceptances,” but rather has the consequence of students competing against each other, Walker said.
Kami Wagner, the school system’s acting coordinator of student support programs, said having class rank “was an added layer of stress and anxiety for students.
“We know there was some dissension, but when we talked to students they were in very much of support of [eliminating] it,” she added. “Once we opened up the discussion, people seemed to understand where we were coming from.”
As far as valedictorians or salutatorians, school system employees do not recall if students have ever received those recognitions, according to a county schools spokesman.
Eliminating class rank is one of several changes to the school system’s policy covering grading and reporting at the secondary education level. The first, most notable change to Policy 8020 was including middle school grade levels. Prior to this change, pre-kindergarten through middle school grade levels were in a separate policy, Policy 8010, which now covers pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
The school system received feedback from parents that they found themselves referring to both policies for information regarding their middle school students because “there are some classes taught in middle school that are applied for high school credit,” Walker said.
For the past two years, as the secondary level grading and reporting policy was being updated, the school system received feedback from community members, including through forums.
“Our community wants a good grading and reporting policy,” Walker said. “We talked to young people and adults and the bottom line was the same: ‘We want our kids to be successful.’ ”
Three years ago, the Board of Education tasked the school system to create guidelines, not a policy, about homework.
The school system, she said, set out to create “reasonable boundaries that are flexible” when it comes to homework for middle and high school students.
“Homework has been a challenging concept for us,” she said.
Wagner said that when assigning homework, the work needs to be intentional and important to either prepare for a lesson or master skills learned in class.
“The board asked for us to take a more active stance on [what] homework did permit and [what it] doesn’t permit,” Walker said.
She added the school system would like to see the bulk of homework be assigned and completed during the week to give students a break on weekends to explore other passions and interests.
The policy states that when determining the number of hours of homework per week or per day, teachers should take into account reading course material, studying and practicing skills like rehearsing a musical instrument. Another factor to take into consideration is when long-term projects have been assigned with daily homework, teachers should include the expected hours it will take their students to complete the projects when assigning additional work.
Walker recognizes it may be challenging for teachers to estimate how long a homework assignment will take each of their students.
“Some kids take more time to do homework, ‘So how do you know?’ ” she said.
The elementary grading and reporting policy also underwent changes. Policy 8010, previously covering pre-kindergarten to eighth grade, now stops at the end of fifth grade, or elementary school.
An update to the policy includes how elementary school teachers will report on individual students’ learning behaviors.
As part of each student’s report card, under each class — for example, language arts, mathematics, science, art, music, etc. — teachers will evaluate the students on five learning behaviors. The learning behaviors being evaluated are interpersonal skills, responsibility, perseverance, collaboration and initiative.
Howard County Times: Top stories
Additionally, the academic part of the report card will be evaluated on standards instead of what is now being reported “demonstrates knowledge and skills.”
“Standards-based instruction reporting is centered around understanding what a child is supposed to be able to do, the standard,” said Ebony Langford-Brown, Howard schools’ executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. “[The process is] reporting to the mastering of that standard instead of math in general.”
For example, second-grade mathematics standards are a student can do addition and subtraction with the value of 100, according to the Maryland College and Career Readiness Standards. In fourth grade, the standard is students can compare two fractions with different numerators or denominators.
Standards-based grading goes deeper into how a student is performing within a certain subject.
In the past while a student may have received a B in a math class, which is considered above passing, the breakdown of the grade would not reflect gaps in certain areas, meaning the student may have been excelling with division and multiplication, but was struggling with fractions, according to John Sangiovanni, the school system’s elementary mathematics coordinator. Standards-based reporting provides those details.
Amy Reese, the school system’s elementary science coordinator, added, “That B doesn't really tell the parents anything. It’s an average and a grade, but what does that grade really mean?”
Both policies will take effect July 1, with some updates taking effect immediately for the start of school in September and others being rolled out between this coming academic year and the 2020-21 school year.