Juniors question equity of class rank due to different learning pathways


photo by Grace Edgeworth

Junior Kaitlin Castillo takes notes in her AP U.S. History class. Castillo said she doesn’t feel GPAs this year are balanced. “I did like my [class rank] improvement, but I wasn’t as happy and didn’t have as much pride in it because it didn’t mean as much if not everyone was at school,” Castillo said.

Class rank was updated for all upperclassmen on Nov. 3. However, a Twitter poll showed that 79% of 39 respondents said they believed that unique circumstances of the 2020-2021 school year have corrupted the equity of class rank.  Due to the coronavirus pandemic, LISD gave families a choice between virtual, virtual-plus and in-person classes, dividing the student body’s academic experience this year.


“I feel like I’m at both an [advantage and disadvantage] because virtual learners can cheat on everything, they can talk to friends all class and they have better time management skills,” in-person junior Kaitlin Castillo said. “If I have a ton of [AP U.S. History] homework one night, I only have after school to work on it. In class, I don’t really have time. But, I’m at an advantage because teachers are more used to teaching in-person, so they’re better at teaching in-person so I learn more.”


Though 36% of 61 virtual students admit to cheating at least once a week, only 18% of the same sample believe their grades have generally improved due to doing virtual school. 


“People assume school is easier for online kids,” virtual junior Macie Kauffman said. “But most of my quizzes and tests that I have to take are during live classes, so we have to login on WebEx, get on a call, turn on our video and show our faces while we’re taking the tests and quizzes. Doing online school is definitely as hard, and maybe harder, than doing school in person just because of how hard it is to actually get to doing the actual work versus being in school and being made to do the work.”


Though rank is significant to many students because several Texas colleges offer automatic admission based solely on rank, some students trust in the holistic overview colleges promise. 


“Colleges tend to gravitate less [toward] rank and more [toward] what you accomplished, anything special, things you’ve done,” in-person junior Nhat-Tam Nguyen said. “So that’s why I’m really not that worried about class rank.”


Still, some students feel that the school should adjust the current rank system in light of oddities of this year.


“I think noting [the type of school] on transcripts would be better, so if there are discrepancies on your transcript that are due to taking online school, colleges will know that and [say] ‘OK, we can take this into consideration that they got a lower grade here because they were in a different environment, they were having to learn differently,’” Kauffman said. “Just like how they note if it’s a GT or AP class.”


While head counselor Dr. Justin Fields did not speak on any plans to add this notation to the transcripts, he said college applications provide the opportunity for students to explain any aspect of their academic experience. Fields also said many applications this year have asked students how COVID-19 in particular affected their academic experience. AP U.S. History teacher Travis Zuber teaches juniors both online and in-person and echoed this sentiment.


“I understand the frustrations, but based off of everything I’ve seen and everything I’ve talked [about] with other teachers, the level of rigor, grading and grades is equivalent,” Zuber said. “So [students are] not getting an advantage either or, and we have not seen that difference between in-person and virtual.”