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Williamsville schools may eliminate class rank for juniors, sophomores

The Williamsville Central School District is poised to eliminate class rank for 10th and 11th graders, five months after the district made the change for students in all of its younger classes.

The School Board is set to decide on the matter at its March 13 meeting.

Board members this week agreed to hold the vote after reviewing the results of a recently completed district survey that found nearly two-thirds of high school sophomores and juniors, and their parents, favor getting rid of class rank.

"I thought it was very interesting to actually read many people's comments, both for and against," said board member Suzanne VanSice. "But, overwhelmingly, I thought there were many that were very passionate about having it eliminated."

If the change is approved at next month's board meeting, only current seniors at Williamsville East, Williamsville North, and Williamsville South high schools still would receive a class ranking.

Not every School Board member embraced eliminating class rank. Board members on Tuesday said they were balancing the views of those who believe the rankings generate pressure and competition with those who believe students should have the right to set their academic course as they see fit.

"The majority would like to have it switched earlier," Vice President Teresa Leatherbarrow said. "But I think that out of respect to students and families who made course selections based on what was important to them, that has to be respected."

When Williamsville in September ended class rank for entering freshman, and for all following classes, it was the first local district known to take this step, according to the Erie County Association of School Boards.

The School Board had considered eliminating class rank for everyone, but decided at the time it would be unfair to do that to students who have spent years striving to become valedictorian of their class.

School Board members, who approved the change unanimously, were swayed by a district-wide opinion poll that showed support for ending class rank and by a survey of State University of New York campuses in the region that found none required class rank to apply. Top district administrators, including the principals at the three high schools, also supported the move.

An end to class rank in Williamsville schools?

Since then, however, district officials say a number of students and parents have urged them to expand the elimination of class rank. Board members in December asked for the survey of older students, and their parents.

A survey of 374 parents found 64 percent favored eliminating class rank for current 10th graders, with 36 percent opposed, and 62 percent favored getting rid of class rank for current 11th graders, with 38 percent opposed.

For the 385 students surveyed, 66 percent favored elimination for sophomores, with 34 percent opposed, and 63 percent supported ending class rank for current juniors, with 37 percent against.
The district plans to release the survey results, including comments made by students and parents, through its website soon.

The School Board spent about 30 minutes Tuesday parsing the survey results and discussing a course of action. VanSice and other board members said the survey shows clear majorities favor ending the class rank system.

VanSice cited students raising concerns about the stress of chasing a high ranking, and said the metric is a hindrance to many students seeking scholarships and college admissions.

But board member Mark Mecca said the School Board also has an obligation to consider the views of the roughly one-third of respondents who want to keep the rankings in place.

Leatherbarrow, the board vice president, said ending class rank for all students is a blow to those who have worked hard to finish in the Top 10 – and who likely have picked classes to help them reach their goal. She said it comes down to people holding different educational philosophies.

Board President Shawn Lemay added it's not fair if the board is seen changing the rules in the middle of the game.

"This is upsetting to a lot of the community," Lemay said, "especially those who thought that this issue was behind us – that we've put this behind us, the decision had been made – and the board was going to move forward and the district was going to move forward based on the rules that we've already put in place."

Board member Toni Vasquez then asked why the district conducted the survey if it wasn't prepared to act on its findings.

In the end, the views of Vasquez and other board members who felt a responsibility to respond to critics of class rank carried the day. The board twice voted 6-3 to place separate resolutions – one ending class rank for current sophomores, one ending class rank for current juniors – on next month's agenda.

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