Editor’s note: This post is based on an article in the Austin American Statesman, by reporter Benjamin Wermund.
To get around some of the effects of the “top ten percent” rule in Texas, which requires public colleges to admit applicants who graduate in the top tenth of their high school classes, some leading Texas high schools no longer rank most students as part of a strategy to improve the chances of their highly-prepared graduates to gain entrance to UT Austin and Texas A&M.
How does this work? Well, if students with very high gpa’s and test scores don’t make the top ten percent at intensely competitive high schools, not being ranked at all appears to net a more individual assessment that yields higher admission rates.
The Eanes district, including students from the affluent Austin suburb of Westlake, was the first to try the strategy. The district did not rank 90 percent of its graduates, and saw its acceptance rate at UT Austin improve by 39 percent and the rate at Texas A&M improve by 49 percent.
To graduate in the top ten percent at Westlake High School, a student must have straight A’s along with multiple advanced placement classes. Graduating in the top ten percent at a low-performing high school could be achieved with, say, a 3.5 gpa, no AP classes, and low test scores.
(UT Austin this year admitted students from among the top 7 percent of high school grads, not the top 10 percent, under rules that allow the university to adjust the percentage based on projected space in the class.)
So far, at least three other competitive districts in the Austin area have decided to stop ranking all of their students.
Other districts are waiting to see the full effects of the strategy. Admissions officials claim that they can “ballpark” the percentage but that this process takes longer and could actually result in delays for applicants.
Because the estimation process may eventually reduce the current advantage that some high-performing students receive from not being ranked, the Leander district northwest of Austin leaves the choice of ranking in the hands of students and parents.
The Austin ISD, on the other hand, leaves the choice to individual campuses. The very competitive Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy and the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders are the only campuses that have stopped ranking most students.