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AISD works to fix GPA and rank discrepancies

Inconsistent posting of pass/fail courses, high school credit courses in middle school leads to inaccuracies
Chloe Lewcock
With the AISD rank and GPA discrepancies, some students had significant changes to their stats. College and career counselor Camille Nix worked with students to appeal their college decisions if they got rejected from schools depending on their previous stats before getting updated. Students worked with Nix to update schools on their new stats in order to fully get their appropriate decisions. “Those who already were accepted [won’t be affected], but it could factor in if a student appeals their initial decision,” Principal Andy Baxa said.

As Austin ISD seniors finish applying to college and receiving decisions for their futures, an issue surrounding GPA and class rank has arisen. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the district changed the grading system from the regular 0-100 scale to a pass or fail grading system. When students’ GPA and rank is calculated, all their high school level courses and weight is considered, and the pass/fail grades earned during the pandemic have thrown the calculations off. While pass/fail practice was only used during the spring semester of the 2020 school year, the miscalculation issue was only detected this year and has caused ripples for current seniors’ GPAs and ranks. 

Chief of governmental relations & board services Jacob Reach has had a significant role in addressing the issue for high school students.

“I support our Board of Trustees, legal services, policy and other programs in AISD,” Reach said. “As part of this, I review policy for the district and ensure alignment with our processes. In addition, I served as a senior staff member when the original COVID change to GPA was made, so I had institutional knowledge of the intent and reasoning.”

The recalculation process is in progress for these seniors to have the correct GPA and rank to send to colleges as well as the correct and updated numbers for graduation. 

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“The issue occurred when classes that should have replaced lower grades in certain circumstances [did not replace them],” Reach said. “The system did not correctly consider these pass or fail [courses] when determining if a student should be able to replace grades for rank GPA, which caused some students to not have their highest rank GPA courses considered.”

The problem affects  students who took high school courses in their middle school years, or took pass/fail courses during the pandemic in high school.

“This would only affect a small portion of students,” Reach said. “If a student took a high school level core course in middle school during the COVID closure semester and took more courses than required for a core course in the same discipline, it is possible that the system did not properly replace the course.”

According to Reach, while the issue affects seniors almost exclusively, it in some cases affects juniors as well. Juniors who took high school core courses during their middle school 2020 year also could face GPA and rank repercussions, something the district is working to address.

If a student took a high school level core course in middle school during the COVID closure semester and took more courses than required for a core course in the same discipline, it is possible that the system did not properly replace the course.”

— Jacob Reach, chief of governmental relations & board services

“It is unlikely to have affected students early as the system issue was mostly due to when students took high school courses during the 2020 COVID year in middle school,” Reach said. 

The issue itself is district-wide, affecting high school students at McCallum, LASA, Anderson, Austin High and more. McCallum, under the leadership of Andy Baxa, is working to assist students during the recalculation process in hopes of resolving the issue with minimal disruption. 

“Our staff, which included our registrar and counseling team, had to hand calculate the GPAs for the top 15% [of the senior class],” Baxa said. “This resulted in movement in both directions, with the largest increase being 10 spots and the largest decrease being six spots.”

As of March 8, seniors of the top 15% at McCallum have newly updated GPAs and ranks, but the issue itself still exists with other parts of the McCallum classes including the rest of the senior class beyond the top 15% and any juniors who took high school classes in middle school throughout AISD.

“The impact to the rest of the school will be minimal,” Baxa said. “AISD is working on a process that will recalculate the GPAs for the rest of the class of 2024 and for subsequent classes.”

Another potential issue expressed by students alongside the GPA and rank discrepancies is auto admission to Texas schools, something that can be altered by a decimal change. 

“University of Texas accepts students in the summer prior to senior year based on GPA,” Reach said. “We have confirmation from UT that they would not rescind any acceptance.”

Although students already accepted into University of Texas and other Texas schools are in the clear for GPA and rank changes, any students who move into that range are in a different situation. According to Reach and Baxa, while the school itself doesn’t reconsider a new group of students, those who move up into the top 6% are able to appeal to schools. 

“Those who already were accepted [won’t be affected], but it could factor in if a student appeals their initial decision,” Baxa said. “[College counselor] Ms. Nix has been working with a couple of students to develop their appeal including the recalculated GPA.”

According to Baxa, the changes at McCallum were relatively mild, and the changes to rank and GPA didn’t create massive fluctuation from where students were previously ranked. 

“We saw some movement but not a significant amount of changes,” Baxa said. “We only saw two  students move into or out of the top 6%.”

While for the top 15% of the senior class the issue is resolved, the rest of the class and any affected juniors are still in a period of waiting. 

“The district is working on a new formula which will correct the rest of the class of 2024 and future classes,” Baxa said. “We hope the new formula will take care of the recalculation and we will not have to hand calculate the rest of the students.”

For students of the top 15% of the senior class, the anticipation of how this error would affect the college process was an added stressor during application season. For senior Sadie Roselle, not knowing what her GPA and rank would look like coming out of the recalculation left her feeling unsure.

“It was definitely a stressful situation for everyone that had the possibility of being affected by the change,” Roselle said. “Especially for seniors, rank and GPA are extremely important and we all work really hard to maintain them.”

We saw some movement but not a significant amount of changes, and we only saw two  students move into or out of the top 6%.”

— Principal Andy Baxa

The feeling of uncertainty was the worst part of the process, according to Roselle. Not knowing what AISD was doing to fix the situation left seniors in a period of wait.

“Finding out that my stats could change negatively just based on a technical error made me feel almost helpless,” Roselle said. “There was nothing I could do to change it. Even if I were to work harder than ever in all my classes my GPA could still drop.”

Roselle took comfort  in that some of her classmates was experiencing the same thing.

“It wasn’t a change that only affected one of two students; we were all kind of in the same boat,” Roselle said. “I noticed that there was a lot of support going around as the changes were coming out.”

Additionally AISD’s rank and GPA calculating change reflected upon McCallums Trustee scholar awards. Each year the top 10% of each class is invited to receive an award commemorating their academic achievements. McCallum in prior years consistently used rank GPA to measure a student’s eligibility for the award or not. This year however the protocol switched and AISD used cumulative GPA. While the award only narrows in on the first three nine weeks of the year, the change put some students out of the range to receive an award. 

“The calculation process was pretty much the same as before,” Baxa said. “The difference was in the number of classes we looked at to determine a student’s eligibility for a trustee award. When we use the rank GPA, we only consider courses in English, social studies, math, science and world language. Cumulative looks at all the courses a student took this year. Both rank and cumulative GPAs used the weighted formula, so the only real difference was in the number of classes used to calculate a student’s GPA.”

This led to some changes for the senior class and made it so some students in the top 10% of their class didn’t receive a trustee scholar award because of the change in which GPA to use. 

“If you think about it, the cumulative GPA is a more holistic way to compare students,” Baxa said. “One thing to keep in mind is that trustee awards are determined by a student’s performance during the first three grading periods of the year, so their performance during any other year is irrelevant. A graduating class’s top 10% does not always match the list of trustee award winners for a given year.”

According to Baxa the change in how the award eligibility is calculated has sparked recent confusion among parents and the student body. 

“Several students felt like the change prevented them from being named a 4-year trustee award recipient,” Baxa said. “Most of the concern centered on how this impacts a student’s overall GPA.”

While the issue seemingly wasn’t preventable, Baxa said the district and McCallum are working to make the changes as quickly and efficiently as possible and will continue to work to make sure the issue is resolved fully. 

This story was originally published on The Shield Online on April 24, 2024.