Tuesday, August 16, 2011

playing the game

 I've been watching the unfolding of educational policy in the US in general and Texas in particular. I look back at what the  standard requirements used to be, albeit in the prior millennium, the standards were based on merit. If you took a class and received an A, you got a 4.0.  There were no levels to a class like say, Chemistry. If you took chemistry you had to complete certain tasks, take tests and your average was recorded and grade points awarded. If you scored a B you got a 3.0 , etc. There were no 5 point classes for honors, or enriched or AP. If you were gifted enough to take a difficult class and you got an A, not only was your reward the A but also the satisfaction of accomplishment and enhanced knowledge.

  So fast forward to 2011. At my daughter's highschool- a very large urban school, here is a breakdown of some of the games that you have to play.  If you are in marching band or orchestra, the class counts as a 5 point class, meaning and A receives 5 grade points, a B gets 4 etc. So a student taking all 5 point classes can have a 5.0 GPA. If you play a sport and make all A's your GPA can drop to a 4.85. It doesn't sound like much but it can knock you out of the top 10% over the 4 years. . If you play a sport, no matter what level, you only receive 4 points. If you want to maintain as high a gpa as you can ( for class ranking) then you scheme to take your PE credit ( 4 points) your senior year. I could go on for hours with examples of the nonsensical world of grade points, but you get the picture.

  Why should I care? Well in our wonderful state of Texas, if you graduate in the top 10% of your class ( calculated by the weighted GPA) you get automatic admission to UT and A&M regardless of your SAT scores or the actual curriculum. In 2008, 91% of the seats at UT were taken up by the top 10%'ers. That left the university with only 9% of the seats at their discretion. So in 2009 they capped the seats at 75% filled with top 8%'ers. Therefore, only 25% of the seats are being evaluated on any merits other than class rank. So at my daughter's school, if you are a straight A student, but you play varsity sports for 4 years instead of  something like marching band, you will drop out of the top 10% and not receive the automatic admission that the kid banging the cymbals at the end of 'send in the clowns' half-time show does.

   There are schools in the district where the average SAT score of the top 10% is barely over 1000. If you are in the 11%- 25% A&M requires that you have to have an SAT score of over 1300 to get the other road to automatic admission.  Of course, I'm not advocating eliminating the rank from any consideration, but it should not be the driving factor. It is not the most accurate way of assessing a student's college readiness. It must go hand in hand with curriculum, test scores, essays and extra-curricular activities.

 This system does not promote a well rounded college bound candidate. This encourages very strategic and uncomfortably monitored choices of 5 point classes regardless of content and value. At a time when the obesity rate is beyond the epidemic level, it is absurd to discourage college bound students from playing sports. But for some, they  will be cutting their own throats in the class rank game if they choose a sport over a 5 point choice.

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