Hollis Brookline earns high grades for class-rank approach

Before we become immersed in political endorsements and related issues leading up to the Nov. 6 election, we would like to pause and make note of last week’s decision by the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School Board to eliminate class rank for its students.

Not so much because we feel strongly about class rank, but because we want to bring attention to school officials’ deft handling of what could have become a divisive issue.

If New Hampshire school boards – or any policymaking body for that matter – are looking for a good working model of how to approach such potentially controversial issues, they would be well-served by studying what took place in the Hollis Brookline Cooperative School District.

Last Wednesday, the board voted to end the practice of measuring and reporting class rank for graduating seniors effective in the next school year, thereby making Hollis Brookline the latest high school to do away with the academic designation.

Nationally, more than half of all high schools no longer report class rank, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. What’s more, many colleges are putting less emphasis on class rank, in part because course difficulty and grading practices can vary considerably from school to school.

Bedford, Bishop Guertin in Nashua and Souhegan in Amherst are among New Hampshire high schools that have stopped ranking seniors by academic performance and incorporating that information into their college transcripts.

Principal Cindy Matte was the driving force behind the change, reasoning that class rank didn’t serve many students well in this school of high achievers. A student who might rank near the bottom of the top 25 percent at Hollis Brookline, for example, might rank among the top 10 students at another high school, which might not be taken into consideration at colleges that use class rank among its factors for admission.

“We did our job, we got the research, did the analysis and presented the information in a way that the community could understand,” Matte said.

And that, no doubt, went a long way toward defusing what could have been a contentious situation.

Consider the open and transparent approach school officials took leading up to last week’s vote:

Guidance counselors surveyed roughly 40 colleges and universities – including such prestigious schools as Brown, Colgate, Holy Cross and Vanderbilt – and came to the conclusion that many schools today are de-emphasizing class rank in favor of a student’s grades, SAT or ACT scores, and the strength of the school’s curriculum.

School officials distributed a survey to all seniors and their parents, seeking feedback on what they thought of the proposal. The results showed strong support for ending the practice.

Two weeks before the vote, the School District hosted two community forums – one during the day, the other in the evening – in the school auditorium. There, parents and students were given an opportunity to be heard on the issue.

Finally, when the School Board adopted the proposal, it signaled a willingness to revisit the policy should circumstances change upon its implementation.

Kudos to the school administration, board members and the entire community for taking such a reasoned and open approach to this important issue.