Frisco ISD is making a number of policy changes that District leaders hope will encourage students to make course selections based on their individual interests and improve their chances of being admitted to colleges and universities of their choice.
Starting in the 2018-19 school year, the District will stop publishing class rank beyond the top 10 percent of each graduating class. Transcripts of students in the top 10 percent will continue to show their position relative to the total class size, in addition to their unweighted grade point average (GPA), which is based on a traditional 4.0 scale, and their weighted GPA, which is used to determine class rank.
Transcripts for the other 90 percent of students will continue to show both GPAs, but not class rank, so colleges and universities will have to consider students for admission based on factors other than class rank. This is especially important when large numbers of students are separated by tiny fractions of a point in the GPA for rank calculation.
“Frisco ISD is a highly-competitive school district and many students outside the top 10 percent have impressive academic and extracurricular credentials,” said Superintendent Dr. Mike Waldrip. “By removing class rank from their transcripts, colleges will be forced to consider students not just in relation to their classmates, but in relation to all applicants from across the state and nation, where the chances of them standing out in the crowd are much greater.”
Public school districts in Texas are legally required to rank students and publish rank through the top 10 percent, which is the cut-off for automatic admissions to Texas public universities. The cut-off for the Class of 2019 at The University of Texas at Austin is 6 percent.
Other high-performing school districts have seen a larger percentage of students accepted into top universities after making similar changes.
“We want colleges and universities to see our students as more than just numbers on a piece of paper,” said Director of Guidance and Counseling Stephanie Cook. “When they look at the Advanced Placement courses our students have taken, the career certifications they’ve earned or the clubs and organizations they have been involved in, our students really shine. Not only are they well-positioned for success academically, but they are well-rounded students who have demonstrated tremendous leadership skills.”
FISD is also hoping to address a culture of over-competitiveness than can breed academic dishonesty and mental health concerns such as anxiety.
The District will publish rank through the top 10 percent outside of school hours in an effort to limit conversations about rank and the manner in which students compare themselves to one another. The lowest-weighted GPA of students in the top 10 percent, first quartile, second quartile and third quartile will be communicated to all students after each calculation period, so students will know generally where they fall in relation to their peers.
“We have heard repeatedly from students who say they chose a heavy load of coursework just to improve their class rank,” Cook said. “That can have a tremendous impact on the amount of stress they experience and hours of sleep they get. Students should find a healthy balance and we want to make sure we are taking care of their needs in this area as well.”
A committee of school principals, counselors and District staff formed in 2016 to study class rank, college admissions trends and practices in other school districts. Recommendations were made to the School Board this spring following a two-year review, which included input from the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Committee. The committee, made up of more than 30 students from all nine high schools, was tasked with getting input from their peers and helped develop a survey taken by more than 5,000 high school students.
“Frisco ISD provides a wide variety of choices to meet students’ individual academic and future goals,” said Dr. Angela Romney, area director for secondary instruction. “Yet students told us they were picking advanced courses in areas where they had little to no interest instead of courses where they actually had a lot of interest. For example, a student planning to major in engineering in college might not take career and technical education courses in engineering due to the potential impact on their rank.”
Rica Llagas, a recent graduate of Heritage High School, was a member of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Committee.
“So many kids sacrifice their own interests for the sake of a number,” she told trustees in May. “I know plenty of people who have told me, ‘Oh, I would love to do political science.’ ‘Oh, I would love to do culinary.’ ‘Oh, I would love to do child development, but that’s just another on-level class to add to my record and frankly, I can’t afford more than one on-level class.’”
GPA for rank is based on a 6.0 scale and assigns weights to courses based on rigor. On-level courses are given a weight of 5.0, while advanced courses carry a weight of 5.5 or 6.0.
The changes approved Monday adjust the weight given to specific types of courses, starting with students in the Class of 2023. Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses will be given a 6.0 weight, while dual credit, Pre-AP, Independent Study and Mentorship (ISM), Academic Decathlon and Project Lead the Way (PLTW) courses will have a 5.5 weight. On-level courses will continue to be weighted 5.0 for the purposes of GPA for rank.
In addition, beginning with the Class of 2021, juniors and seniors will have the option to designate one athletics or fine arts course each year to drop from the GPA for rank calculation. This option, which is voluntary and only applies to athletics and fine arts courses, is designed to encourage students to continue to pursue their interests and passions, without worrying about a potential negative impact to their GPA for rank.
“These changes support Frisco ISD’s commitment to being student-centered and learning-centered,” said Chief Academic Officer Katie Kordel. “Frisco ISD offers an exceptional number of high-quality learning opportunities, and a student’s course selections should be based on his or her unique interests, needs, learning goals and college and career aspirations rather than the GPA weight of courses.”
Students say the changes will better prepare them for the future.
“School isn’t really just about our grades, it is about our actual learning experiences,” Llagas told the School Board. “It’s supposed to be about the connections we make with other people and genuinely learning what our interests are and what careers we would like to go into.”
Learn more about the changes.