Friday, April 04, 2008

Defining a Uniform GPA Calculation for "Top 10 Percent" College Admission--Easier Said Than Done

(copyright 2008 Texas AFT)

Last year the state legislature directed the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to establish a uniform, statewide standard for measuring high-school students' grade point averages. The idea is to make sure all students admitted automatically to Texas colleges and universities based on their "top 10 percent" grades are being judged by the same yardstick. Supposedly the new standard would apply to first-time freshmen applying to enter "general academic teaching institutions" in the fall of 2009.

The Coordinating Board on March 28 asked the state attorney general to interpret what the 2007 law means. Conflicting views have emerged as to whether it actually requires school districts to use whatever statewide method of calculating GPA that the Coordinating Board adopts. The attorney general's advisory opinion on this question may not be forthcoming for six months or more.

Meanwhile, the rule-making machinery of the Coordinating Board grinds onward, with a meeting just this morning of an advisory group on uniform GPA. Texas AFT monitored today's discussion and came away convinced that any consensus on a uniform GPA methodology is a long way off, calling into serious doubt whether the legislature's fall 2009 deadline can be met.

One superintendent in attendance pointed out that his district has found it a struggle just to establish a common calculation of GPA across four campuses. You can imagine, he suggested, how much more difficult it will be to impose a uniform GPA calculation on every high school in the state.

At this point, there's not even a consensus on methodology between the commissioner of higher education, Dr. Raymund Paredes, and the GPA advisory committee. They differ on which courses will count for purposes of the "top 10 percent" rule. They disagree on how much extra weight to give for Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Dual Credit courses, and on whether to give any extra weight at all for Pre-AP, Pre-IB, or Honors courses. The commissioner wants to give credit for high-school courses taken in middle school; the advisory committee does not. The advisory group says out-of-state grades should not count; the commissioner says they should if they're on the student's transcript. The commissioner and these Coordinating Board advisers cannot even agree on how many places after the decimal should be used in calculating the uniform GPA; they say at least three, he says no more than three.

Commissioner Paredes also wants the legislature to revisit this statute and put off the effective date of the uniform GPA standard from the fall of 2009 until the fall of 2012, "so that high-school freshmen beginning in 2008 are aware of the new method for university admissions." However, even the commissioner's proposed new time line would require adoption of that new GPA methodology by this summer. In fact, if Paredes means what he says about including high-school work completed in middle school, then shouldn't the Coordinating Board really have adopted the uniform GPA standard by the fall of 2006, when the senior class of 2012 entered seventh grade?

To top things off, Commissioner Paredes insists that the statewide, uniform GPA "is designed for use in college admissions and is not meant to infringe on a school district's right to establish its own method for determining GPA" or "to impact local district policy." Taken at face value, this assertion suggests that a district GPA could be used to determine which students to honor for top grades locally, while a separate state-mandated GPA calculation would decide if these students really deserved "top 10 percent" recognition and thereby earned automatic college admission. Lawsuits, anyone?

So let's take stock of the situation: An advisory opinion requested from the attorney general is months away. Any rational consensus statewide on the specifics of GPA calculation apparently is even further away. No provision has been made by the legislature to cover the acknowledged local costs of compliance with the new GPA requirement. (Picture not just the software modifications but also the poor counselors and other staffers trying to keep two sets of books on students' GPA--in their spare time from administering TAKS exams.)

In view of all these complications, we have a suggestion. The commissioner has already recommended that lawmakers next January should change the effective date of the new GPA calculation. The commissioner and the Coordinating Board also should politely inform the authors of this GPA legislation that the current rule-making time line is unrealistic, and they should seek at least tacit approval for holding off on rule adoption until the legislature has had a chance to revisit the question.