Elaine Erdem spent the past week helping her son, an eighth grader in a gifted and talented program at Clear Creek ISD, map out the classes he will take during his four years of high school as an assignment for an ongoing class.

After the district revised its class rating policy on Monday to remove electives from the class rating calculation, Erdem isn’t sure she helped him make the right choices.

“I was unaware of what was happening,” he said Thursday. “I wish I had known so I could go over the numbers with my son and let him know what he’s getting into.”

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The Clear Creek ISD School Board voted unanimously Monday to remove electives from the class ranking calculation so that top performing students don’t take a GPA hit for taking arts, athletics, and other electives with Normal GPA weights of 4.0 instead of advanced courses rated on a 5.0 scale. It’s a move that experts, educators and parents hope will improve students’ mental health and allow them to explore their passions more in high school.

The distinction can have a huge impact on students seeking to enroll at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.

Texas passed a law in 1997 requiring state-funded universities to allow all students in the top 10 percent of their class to enroll as a way to increase diversity. However, UT-Austin had to scale back to the upper 6th percentile due to limited available seats.

“Of all the analyzes of students who were in the top 10 or 6 percent … the difference in their class rank boiled down to taking Level One or Level Two electives,” said Robert Bayard, deputy Clear Creek Superintendent of Curriculum and Education, at the Monday Night Meeting.

Diane Overman, a Houston-based independent education consultant, said the change could have a positive impact on students’ mental health, allowing them to take the electives they enjoy and relieving some of the pressure.

“It’s been so stressful for these kids trying to figure out which classes to take, knowing that any decision affects the grade in the class,” she said. “Those who don’t know are at a disadvantage”.

The ISDs of Friendswood, College Station, Coppell, Leander, Lewisville, Plano, Round Rock and Sunnyvale also recently made changes to their class grading system to no longer include elective grades.

At Clear Creek ISD, class ranking grade point averages will be determined by semester units in the class in the categories of non-optional English Language Arts, Math, Science, Non-optional Social Studies, and World Languages ​​and Cultures. The change will begin to take effect for students graduating in 2027.

“We want (students) to do their best no matter what class they are in, and not feel because of the course they take that their class rank will be diminished,” Bayard said on the district’s Car Rider Line podcast.

Erdem is concerned that the change could negatively impact children trying to be in the top 30th percentile of their admissions class who do better in electives than in core classes.

“Those guys might want the band included in their chart,” he said. “It might not hurt them at all or it might mean they can’t go to (Texas Tech University.)”

While the change at Clear Creek ISD looks positive, Erdem said there are still a lot of unknowns for parents.

“I don’t mind the change – I think an update is needed,” he said. “I just want to make sure I can give my son the best advice.”

Dava West, the district’s director of counseling and student services, said students will still have a cumulative GPA that includes electives.

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“When it comes to undergraduate honors, our graduates with honors will be determined based on that cumulative GPA,” he said. “We’re just trying to enable students to follow their passion and still allow that honor to graduate.”

At Houston ISD, the state’s largest district, class rank is based on all course GPA, including electives, with a few caveats. Students may choose to convert some elective class numerical grades to pass or fail. Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, the third largest district in the state, has a similar system.

At Fort Bend ISD, the board voted in 2019 and 2020 to change the class rank policy for students attending an elective and intra-district transfer program.

Experts say class ranking may not matter much for students trying to matriculate at private universities. However, in-state higher education opportunities have become more attractive to college graduates since the pandemic, Overman said.

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“A lot more students don’t want to go so far from home and they want state tuition,” he said.

Class rank also may not be a factor for students looking to attend public universities in Texas with fewer applicants. Overman said automatic admissions to UT and A&M are coveted because the colleges see a high volume of applications.

“It’s very difficult to get into UT and A&M just because they’re so popular,” she said.

A big misconception about automatic admission, Overman said, is that students will be guaranteed the major of their choice.

“Colleges are looking for a fit for a major,” he said. “They want to see kids take classes that prepare them for their majors. With this new policy for calculating GPA and class rank, a kid could do it and not be penalized for it.

Sophia Hernandez, who graduated from HISD’s Bellaire High School as one of 13 valedictorians in May, said she had to make many sacrifices to get to the top of her class. The pressure to be the best in her class and get into her college of her choice prompted Hernandez to create a spreadsheet that mapped out which AP and advanced classes she needed to take to achieve that goal.

“Some electives that I really wanted to take, but I ended up choosing something else purely based on the grade,” she said. “I regret it.”

Continuing to play orchestra or trying something new like choir would reduce stress and improve her mental health, said Hernandez, now a student at the University of Pennsylvania.

“All of my friends who took electives were much happier and I feel like they’ve gotten so much more out of high school,” she said.

Nellie Naidoo, a mother of two HISD graduates who coaches many top chess players, is among those who argue that schools should do away with class ranking and GPA altogether.

“GPA is putting a lot of pressure on kids to the point where there’s no focus on learning and the excitement of learning,” she said.

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