Future students at North East ISD high schools, including MacArthur High, pictured here, won't be ranked unless they are in the top 10 percent of their class. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Citing a desire to strike the right balance between rigorous academics and students’ stress levels, North East Independent School District trustees voted Monday night to end calculating class rank for students below the top 10 percent. The policy will take effect when the district’s current class of seventh graders enters high school.

“It is really important we have just the right tension on social-emotional learning when we think about rank,” said Colleen Bohrmann, NEISD’s executive director of Learning Support Services, at a December meeting. “We want to be sure that we are pushing the students to a rigorous coursework, but when is it too much?”

With no discussion and no district residents speaking on the matter, trustees unanimously approved the second and final reading of the policy Monday night. The approved changes to the policy can be viewed here in red.

All NEISD students currently in eighth grade or high school will continue to be ranked.

With the approved changes to the class rank policy, NEISD becomes the first traditional public school district in Bexar County to eliminate class rank district-wide for students outside of the top 10 percent.

The ranking policy was established in NEISD in 2006 after a Texas law went into effect requiring districts to rank the top 10 percent of students for a new automatic admission policy at state universities.

State legislators passed the law in 1997 and have amended it since, currently limiting the number of students accepted via automatic admission to the University of Texas at Austin to the top 6 percent of their high school class. 

A large portion of classes at other Texas universities are comprised of students admitted through the top 10 percent rule. At Texas A&M University, 51 percent of the 2018 freshmen class were admitted through the program, NEISD administrators told the board in December.

However, universities are moving to refocus their admissions process on a more holistic review of applicants, said Garry Hardcastle, NEISD’s senior director of Learning Support Services.

Over the last 19 months, Hardcastle, Bohrmann, and a committee of NEISD community members, educators, and administrators, studied the issue. The committee examined the policies of schools and districts statewide, contacted college admissions departments, and reviewed trends in ranking around the country.

Class rank policies and the way ranking is calculated varies from district to district. For instance, NEISD’s current class rank policy only factors in courses required for graduation and classes that are taken in high school. Even if a student takes a high school course in middle school, the grade does not count toward a student’s eventual ranking.

In San Antonio ISD, the superintendent has the power to designate campuses where class rank is not automatically calculated for those outside the top 10 percent.

Officials in Katy ISD, an 80,000-student district outside of Houston, changed how the district ranked students in late 2019. The district maintained ranking for the top 10 percent of students, but eliminated ranking for everyone else, choosing instead to notify students of the quartile they fell into.

“We’ve found over time that labeling all students with an exact rank feeds a culture of unhealthy competition, stress, and pressure,” Katy ISD Chief Academic Officer Christine Caskey told the Houston Chronicle at the time of the policy change.

There’s no one rule that mandates how class rank should be calculated in Texas, Hardcastle told trustees. This often leads to districts calculating grade point averages and rank differently, he added.

In NEISD, the district weights college-level and honors-level courses higher than on-level classes in the GPA calculation. For example, under the current system, a student earning a grade of 100 in an Advanced Placement course would receive a grade of 129 for purposes of class rank and GPA calculation.

Changes to the weights for calculating GPA at NEISD (EIC refers to the district’s policy code)

At a board meeting in December, Hardcastle recommended changing the weights assigned to these courses. Trustees also approved this change Monday, lowering the weights for college-level and honors-level courses.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.