Round Rock ISD ends class rank at one high school

Round Rock ISD is testing out a program that some believe will help high school students have a better chance of getting into the college of their choice.

ROUND ROCK, TEXAS - Round Rock Independent School District is testing out a program that some feel will help high school students have a better chance at getting into the college of their choice.

The district has started a pilot program to do away with class rank at one of their schools -- Westwood High School.

Other districts in the area have previously taken the action.

Eanes Independent School District made the change in 2012 and so did Lake Travis in 2014. And Austin Independent School District eliminated class rank for four of their schools: Austin High School, Anderson High School, Liberal Arts and Science Academy and Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders.

Rebecca Donald, the area-superintendent of the Westwood learning community, said Round Rock ISD created a task force seven years ago to look at the issue, but at that time decided to keep class rank. They started the process again about a year and a half ago. According to Donald, Round Rock ISD will review the pilot program at the end of the year.

Jeb Armstrong is a junior at Westwood.

"Everyone here is very smart," Armstrong said.

Armstrong is already looking at where he wants to go to college. He's thinking about possibly the University of Texas, Duke University or the University of North Carolina.

"I'm taking three AP classes, I'm taking five sciences, and I have an all-A average, but my rank is not the highest," he said. "So with the class rank, I wouldn't be able to get into the colleges I might want to go to, but without it, they can look at my actual abilities."

Armstrong spoke at a school board meeting, urging them to get rid of class rank.

"Westwood's really competitive, and the grades are really hard to get a good class rank, and then with the class rank kind of restricting what colleges we can get into it's better to just not have one and do it based on our academic abilities rather than the rank," Armstrong said.

Donald said there's a high density of high performing students at Westwood. According to her, there were 63 National Merit Finalists at the school this year.

"That's a huge number,” said Donald.

So they started the pilot program at Westwood, getting rid of class rank.

"When you non rank, what you're asking the colleges to do is to look at the students overall holistically, not just a rank,” Donald said.

Instead colleges look at things like ACT and SAT test scores, extra-curricular activities, class choice, community service and a student's application essay.

"The Westwood students have, and possibly have a great chance of getting into colleges than they did when they were ranked," said Donald.

Donald hopes the decision will help students focus on their school work, and not the rank.

"There's a certain stress level there because you're kind of competing with each other,” Donald said. “So if maybe you're just competing with yourself, and make decisions for yourself, and not trying to get the rank then maybe that stress level will go down, and students will make really good choices for what they want to do for their future."

"It makes me feel a lot better about school because now I don't have to focus on, 'Oh no, I'm not increasing my rank, I'm not going up in the rankings.' I just have to focus on the grades,” Armstrong said. "We were all competing to get the good rank, to get what we wanted to get into the good schools, and now that it's easier to get into the schools without the class rank, a little bit of the competition has gone away. But it's still a very academically competitive school. It's a great school."

And that's something colleges are sure to look at.

As for other high schools in Round Rock, Donald said they will continue to use class rank. But, she said they will ask people in those communities how they feel about eliminating class rank in the future.

The top 10 percent of students will still be ranked, according to state law.

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