Districts evaluate practice of ranking students

Last week, the Highland Park ISD school board voted unanimously to stop ranking most members of the senior class in order of their GPA, and districts all over the country are watching to see what happens. Many high-achieving high schools like Lake Highlands recognize that college acceptance comes easily for those ranked in the top ten percent of their class, but less so for the hundreds who don’t make that cut. Competitively, however, students taking college prep courses at strong schools like HP and LH fare very well in college, even if they ranked below the tenth percentile.

Among LHHS’ recent 2009 graduates, ranking in the top ten percent meant earning a GPA of 95.2 or better. Landing one percentage point below that can mean thousands of dollars if the family pays for out-of-state or private school tuition instead of the comparative bargain of a state school like UT or Texas A&M.

The pressure to stay in the top ten percent often leads to counterproductive decisions, like opting to take a less-strenuous English or math class instead of pushing to master the most challenging concepts. What’s the good of being college-ready if the university you’ve chosen won’t let you in?

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The HP decision was influenced by the experience of an Illinois high school which saw acceptance rates go up when non-ranked students applied. Presumably, the students were evaluated based on a broader view of their resume and accomplishments. HP will still assign numerical rankings to the top ten percent as required by Texas law, but they hope eliminating rank will for the rest of their students will result in selective colleges seeing them in a new, more favorable light.

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