Thursday, December 30, 2010

Austin school board approves changes to class rank calculations

Fewer courses will be used to calculate class rank.

Monday, Dec. 13, 2010

The Austin school board approved changes Monday to the way class rank for high school students is calculated a move officials say will encourage students to take more challenging classes in key areas.

However, the new policy will also make it harder for some students to make it into the top 10 percent of their class, necessary to take advantage of Texas' automatic college admission law.

Class rank now will be calculated using four courses each in math, science, social studies, and English and language arts. Two foreign language courses also will be part of the equation. Electives will no longer be factored into the calculation.

If students take more than the required courses in a given subject, the four highest grades will count toward class rank. Administrators have said that the new system could spur students to take additional advanced academic coursework in core courses because it could boost their grade-point average, but the system won't harm their rank if they don't do as well.

The change will go into effect next fall for incoming freshmen.

Under the current class rank system, upper-level electives, such as advanced jewelry , are counted the same as advanced core courses, such as calculus. District officials decided to change the policy after some parents and students complained that weighted credits were available for some electives, such as fine arts, but not others, such as athletics.

Trustee Vincent Torres said the change "really levels the playing field so that all of our students can be considered fairly in evaluating class rank and levels their opportunity to access state universities and colleges through the top 10 percent rule."

Students in the top 10 percent get automatic admission into the state's public universities, except for the University of Texas at Austin, which will require current seniors to hit the top 8 percent for fall 2011 admission.

School districts across the state have different ways of calculating class rank. Though the state passed a 2007 law that would have created a uniform way to calculate class rank, the law was repealed before it went into effect. Ten years ago, the Round Rock school district adopted a class rank policy similar to the policy Austin adopted Monday. Policies in other Central Texas districts vary.

The changes in Austin mean students will have two grade-point averages — one for class rank, including to determine valedictorian, and another to determine a cumulative grade-point average that can be used on college applications, said Christy Rome, director of intergovernmental relations for the district.

About two dozen parents who commented on the changes on a district webpage were almost evenly divided.

On Monday, trustees also changed the eligibility rules for valedictorian and salutatorian.

Candidates for those top two spots now must have been at their high school for two consecutive years to qualify, a year longer than the current policy.

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