50th Edition, Education

Decile cut-offs at record high

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

By David Pemstein, Volume 24
November 21, 1984

South’s class of 1985 boasts the highest decile cut-off points since 1971, when the school began keeping annual records.  These usually high grade point averages have become a source of concern to many seniors.  However, Dr. Margaret Addis, head of the Guidance Department, feels that the higher decile cutoffs are actually assets to the students.
Addis believes that any interpretation of statistical data is entirely up to the admissions officers.  She hopes that most admissions officers will see that the class ranks represent not a poor performance but a superior effort in the face of fierce competition.  The situation “is beneficial to all the students, not just those in the top decile, because it indicates the quality of the general surroundings has been improved.”
“The most important thing in the transcript right now,” says Addis, is a highlighted box titled “Two special items re: class of 1985.”  The first indicates that the number of national Merit semi-finalists for 1985 is up 200 percent form the class of 1984.  The second item states that “The academic level, as measured by rank-in-class computation, is the highest since we have been keeping annual records, 1971.”  Addis feels that this information will adequately explain a seemingly low class rank.
Still, students whose rank in class has been lowered due to the highly competitive atmosphere are worried that colleges might misinterpret their proportionately lower class ranks.  Senior Ta Herrera feels that “the grade point average is more important than the class rank.  I don’t think that the class rank is actually that important.”  Herrera is the top cutoff for the second decile; in any other year he would have been in the first decile.
Herrera believes that “class rank reflects how well you do in relation to the difficulty of your courses and also in relation to the rest of your class.  I think the class rank won’t matter so much.”
One of his major complaints is that a B in an honors course is weighted lower than an A in a curriculum 1 course. “This discourages kids from taking honors courses because they’re worried about class rank.”
This sentiment is echoed by other seniors.
One was disturbed that some students were able to reach the second decile by “breezing through” primarily curriculum 2 courses, while other students in the same decile were struggling through honors classes.  Many felt this situation to be unfair and attributed it to the overly competitive nature of the environment.
Seniors should be reassured that several local colleges surveyed do not feel that class rank is an overriding consideration for admission.
“Admission depends on our estimation of any particular candidate as a whole; grade point average is a very small factor in our final decision.  We rely more on very subjective kinds of input: interviews and teacher or counselor recommendations.  We look for a student’s potential, creativity, motivation, and depth of interest more than class rank,” said one admissions official at Harvard University.
One Tufts admissions counselor stated that “we don’t evaluate by decile, but by the strength of curriculum and of the academic record. All of the academic parameters are viewed in an application, plus extracurricular activities… There’s a lot of variability beyond the raw numbers.”
At the University of Massachusetts, too, admission is based more on a “total profile” of the student than on any single factor.  However, “a lower class rank could possibly affect admission if other factors were down such as SATs or a poor transcript.”
Another member of the admission staff at Tufts felt that “any anxiety over class rank is generated by the students and not by colleges, because rank shouldn’t have that much impact on admissions.”
From those surveyed, it appears that class rank is only a minor aspect of a student’s record.  While one’s rank might seem relatively low, the grade point average remains the same.  Rank is not very significant unless it is the only redeeming feature of a transcript.
Dr. Addis underscored this fact by pointing out that although decile cutoffs are up, SAT mean scores are down slightly from last year. “Class rank is only one indication of performance, and not the most important one,” emphasized Addis.

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