Some in Round Rock ISD divided over Westwood High School pilot program to end class rankings

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Parents, stakeholders and students flooded Round Rock High School’s lecture hall in September and October for discussions about Westwood High School’s class-rank policy. The policy—the subject of debate since 2010—was drastically altered at a September Round Rock ISD board of trustees meeting and has its share of supporters and opponents at each of the five district high schools.

A year and a half ago, district leaders again initiated discussion on the topic with a committee to study whether to eliminate the ranking system for students who are not in the top 10 percent. The state requires a top 10 percent ranking for the automatic admissions program but has no other requirements for ranking.

Some schools, including Westlake High School in Eanes ISD, have said doing away with the policy allows high-achieving students who miss this mark to be evaluated more holistically and therefore increases student acceptance rates into their school of choice.

As part of the study, students and parents were polled for their opinion. Per the survey, Westwood respondents were overwhelmingly supportive of the elimination proposal compared with peers from other high schools.

As a result, the RRISD board decided to implement a pilot program at Westwood High School that would effectively end class ranking outside of the top 10 percent, effective Oct. 1, for the 2017-18 school year.

Becky Donald, area superintendent for the Westwood Learning Community and the leader of the study, said Westwood was the right school to study because of its high-achieving academic student body.

“If you look at [Westwood’s] academic population of students, they have a larger cluster of very high-performing students,” she said. “Everyone has them, but Westwood right now has 63 National Merit semifinalists, and most schools get anywhere from six to 12-14.”

Following this study, RRISD will review results from college acceptances and collect feedback. Donald said an exit survey for graduating seniors will play a big role in this process.

She said, however, that one year of this study may not yield enough information to make an informed decision for the rest of the district.

“We may not see until we get a couple of years of good data how the class rank decision benefits our students,” Donald said.

Prior to trustees approving the program, a large group of parents spoke in support of removing the class-rank policy.

Hiten Patel, a parent of a Westwood student, said the rank policy increases stress and anxiety around the time of college admissions. Eliminating it, he said, would decrease these factors.

The other side of the debate came out in full force following the decision at the Oct. 19 board meeting.

More than 15 speakers expressed dismay over the end of the program, saying it would negatively affect students and preclude them from being admitted in other ways to universities.

Donald said all feedback from both sides of the issue will be included in the review of the program.

“[The next decision] is up to the board, but we will do our homework in evaluating it, to see feedback and how it went,” Donald said.

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Emily Donaldson
Emily Donaldson is a recent transplant to the Austin area from Houston, Texas, where she started with Community Impact Newspaper in May 2016. Donaldson started covering public education in Cy-Fair ISD, the third largest school district in the state of Texas, and then she transitioned into her role as the company's legislative reporter, providing statehouse coverage for all 22 editions. Currently, she reports on the city of Round Rock and Round Rock ISD for the Round Rock, Pflugerville and Hutto edition. Donaldson graduated from the University of Missouri with bachelor's degrees in magazine journalism and political science.
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