FISD considers limiting class rank

March 5, 2019

The Friendswood Independent School District is considering taking class rank out of the equation when it comes to evaluating students other than the top 10 percent.

The district’s board of trustees recently approved an item that would eliminate class rankings, saying it wanted to value each youth’s contribution in a more balanced way.

State law requires districts to rank the top 10 percent students, which would continue to occur in Friendswood ISD. More than half of school districts nationwide have eliminated class-ranking systems.

During a recent question-and-answer session on Facebook Live, Superintendent Thad Roher and Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Diane Myers discussed some of the reasons why the district wants to go in this direction.

According to Myers, the driving philosophy behind this move is to find a more equitable way to judge student performance.

This initiative is part of the district’s five-year strategic plan, which uses community surveys and focus groups to form a collaborative process to create guidelines for the district. The initiative is part of that plan’s first year goals and could be implemented as early as the 2019-2020 school year.

According to the district, colleges and universities would still be able to obtain a student’s individual ranking upon request.

There are two beliefs driving discussion on eliminating class rank, said Roher. One is that education has a responsibility “to value and support all students dreams and aspirations” and the second belief is that “learning is unique to the individual’s passions and beliefs,” he said.

Roher said the district is aware that this initiative brings up questions for many.

For instance, what does a grade point average mean if class rank is negated?

“Grade point average is used to rank students based on their GPA, but our (strategic plan) beliefs are pulling us away from that,” Myers said.

The concept of comparing students against each other based only on GPA is outdated, Myers said.

Instead, she said, a new system would give students the “opportunity to explore topics of interest and explore courses they might not have taken because it doesn’t carry ‘weight’ that contributes to their GPA and use that to rank them against someone else.

“So, our beliefs are saying to look at the whole students individually and to celebrate what kids’ passions and kids’ strengths are not just their GPA,” Myers said. “That is reiterating the why behind exploring the elimination of class rank.”

Nicole Rhodes, a member of a district committee of parents, teachers and students, agrees. Without class ranking, she said, students will have more subject options that aren’t part of what she considers a “numbers game.”

“Students would be able to try different courses they might not have tried before due to fear of not succeeding in that particular course,” she said.

Students, Rhodes contends, now are looking for courses they know will give them A or courses such as AP classes that will help their ranking instead of taking courses they are actually interested in because of a fear of not making an A, which would affect their class rank.

“Right now, in my opinion, it seems more like strategy than high school,” said Rhodes, who is the mother of two students in the district. “What classes can my child take to increase their class rank versus what is my child interested in? They are all still too young to know what they want to do the rest of their life and high school should be about finding themselves and what interests them and not the class rank/numbers game.”

According to Myers, GPA will still be used, but the goal is to develop a system that takes away a ranking concept and comparison with students from other schools. That, she said, would create a more balanced evaluation of each students’ potential.

“When we don’t rank our students (11th grade and up), it forces those higher education institutions to look at the whole student,” she said. “What was the student involved in at school? Or outside of school, like service projects.”

For those concerned how the lack of a class ranking system would impact how colleges view and evaluate students, Rhodes believes it would simply level the playing field.

“If anything it would give students more confidence in applying to a broad range of colleges and/or trade schools,” she said.