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One factor, the decile measure, drops off college-acceptance map

As deadlines for college applications loom, Arlington High School students face a new reality: The school eliminated a factor once thought to be important in contributing to the rate of college acceptance for seniors -- the decile ranking or class rank.

A decile rank is a broad categorization of a student’s academic abilities and places each student in a percentage of the class rather than a specific number.

For example, if a student's grade-point average indicates that he or she is in the top 30 percent of the class, his or her decile rank would be 3. Before the decile rank was instituted eight years ago, AHS recorded the exact class rank of each individual in the senior class on their transcripts. This is the first time in the school's history the class ranking category has been eliminated entirely.

Here's what led to dropping this statistic: At the end of the 2012 school year, AHS guidance counselors noticed a drastic change regarding grades and decile rank with the class of 2013. Although many students seemed to maintain respectable grades and GPAs, many fell into a low-decile ranking. Statistically, many students fell about one to two deciles compared to previous years' students with similar GPAs.

With this discrepancy in the decile, the guidance department believed the category was affecting the majority of the class negatively.

AHS senior Jessie Page said that decile rank "doesn’t seem to reflect your academic achievements at all."

The guidance counselors believe this change is linked to a high level of competitiveness between students in the class of 2013, a greater pressure to take and succeed in advanced-placement courses and a greater interest in college.

"I am thrilled we don’t have it anymore," said guidance counselor Lynna Williams. "... Eventually, every school will have the decile or class rank eliminated."

But for students who have maintained grades that qualify them to be in the top 10 percent of the class, guidance counselors will continue to notify college admissions officers about this goal through mandatory letters of recommendation and by other means.

In addition, students will remain eligible for scholarships that specifically correlate to a top percentage of the graduating class.

"I was worried about decile ranking, because it wasn't an accurate reflection of grades," said AHS senior Madge Stein.

For other students who may be worried, guidance counselors have interviewed each college representative who has come to AHS and, according to Williams, all have stated that the decile is connected to such a small portion of the current application process that it is in some cases unnoticeable.

College representatives, including those from such schools as Bates, Bowdoin and Colby, have also agreed that the elimination will not affect a student's chance of getting into a school over another student who may attend a school with a class ranking category.

Still, like most decisions, it contains two sides to the coin.

"I think that some people like looking at where they are in the class when they get their transcript," said AHS senior Dan Russell, "and for some students, it can be rewarding."

This change was initially presented by the guidance department, but because of its potential impact, the proposal was sent to administration and the School Committee, where the ultimate decision was made and approved in 2012.


The author is a senior journalism student at Arlington High School.

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