Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees Revises Westwood Rank in Class Policy

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The Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees voted on Sept. 21 that, effective Oct. 1, only students within the top 10 percent will have their class rank reported on their transcripts. This recommendation was proposed by Area Superintendent of the Learning Community Rebecca Donald, and is a pilot program for the 2017-2018 school year.

Mr. Hiten Patel, a Westwood parent, helped to organize a group of parents to further the movement in its beginnings. Mr. Patel became the “public face” of the movement, and helped to broaden the discussion to include the entire Westwood community through public forums, an electronic discussion group, and a petition.

“There’s been a lot of work behind the scenes by a lot of parents because we’re concerned about our families, we’re concerned about our community, our school, and I think we ended up in a very good place today,” Mr. Patel said. “I think it’s going to help a lot of people.”

Many parents whose students are affected by the ranking system attended the meeting to voice their concerns directly to the board before the final decision was made. Mr. Ivan Mustain, a Westwood parent, recounted how he withdrew his two daughters from the school during their 11th grade year due to problems caused by class rank.

“My daughters were so concerned and so stressed about maintaining their class rank that they refused to take chances,” Mr. Mustain said. “They didn’t take the difficult courses. Why? They were afraid their GPA would be hurt. I don’t like to see this in my daughters. I like my daughters to take chances, to take risks, to make mistakes, and even to fail. Indeed, when I talk to my friends who are businessmen and scientists, and I say, ‘Have you ever failed?’ they just look at me and laugh. Of course they have failed.”

Although a minority, several parents in attendance spoke against the recommendation to remove class rank. They expressed concerns about their students not having the motivation that ranking offers, as well as not receiving recognition for their academic achievements. Parents in support of the recommendation to remove class rank, however, cited the prevalence of  allegations that students cheat to achieve higher rank as a reason to vote the change into effect.

“[My daughters’] classes were very, very competitive,” Mr. Mustain said. “There was a lot of back-talking in the class and a lot of nasty comments as people strove to get better grades. There was also a great deal of cheating in their classes. It was very, very common.”

Among the parents and faculty members present were a handful of Westwood students. One student, Jeb Armstrong ‘19, spoke directly to the Board on behalf of his classmates.

“I said what the parents couldn’t say because they haven’t actually experienced it,” Armstrong said. “I talked about how taking a bunch of AP classes as well as some on-level classes would hurt my GPA, which would make my rank lower, and how rank affects scholarship money, which makes college more expensive and harder to get into. I was really nervous because I could see a bunch of adults giving large speeches while I just had a little one-page thing that I wrote. I was worried that wouldn’t be good enough. I felt better after I finished because they were told not to applaud, but I got applause. It felt good to get that weight off of my shoulders. I’m really glad there’s no class rank anymore. I think this will help us a lot as a school.”

Principal Mario Acosta attended the board meeting as well and expressed optimism after the recommendation had been passed.

“Well, what’s most important is that our parents and our students feel that this is the best for them, right?” Mr. Acosta said. “I’ve said this in all of our meetings. As the principal, my job is to do the best I can with the rules we’ve got, and to take care of our students. I’m happy that our students are happy and our parents are happy. Now, I think this gives us an opportunity to maybe do some things different, some things that we haven’t been able to do at Westwood in the last ten years or so. Now we can all get together and say, ‘what do we do now?’ The Board talked about cheating, and those are some things that we still have to fix ourselves. This just opens the door for us to say ‘what else can we do to continue to make Westwood a great place?’”