Current school system gets evaluated

Under the current system, students are encouraged to not take risks and to take classes that they are not interested in taking. The system is largely a byproduct of the top ten percent rule that the University of Texas established in 1997. The reason UT implemented this ruled was noble, because that policy was designed to encourage minority enrollment, but at the high school level, it has had a lot of unintended consequences. Westlake needs to adapt to the system to eliminate these issues.

Risk is an essential part of learning. Without both physical and mental challenges, our bodies cease to develop. Westlake should be a place that develops adolescent minds and bodies, yet we’ve constructed a system that discourages risk taking. There are two broad components to this problem: multipliers and the inclusion of non-core classes into class ranking. By including AP multipliers on some non-core classes, the system is encouraging students to take classes that may not interest them, but classes that will inflate their grade point average. Consider a system in which only core classes (math, English, science, history, and a foreign language) would determine class rank. This proposal would encourage participation in a variety of extracurricular activities.

Under the current system, high achieving students are jeopardizing their standing in the top 10 percent by participating in athletics and the arts. Additionally, there is a group of AP classes that require limited work, and contribute disproportionally to inflated GPAs. Students are attracted to these classes not because of their interests, but because of the multipliers. Therefore, I propose that students’ GPAs should be based solely on their core classes.

So many successful people are risk takers. We need to start modeling this in our schools. If we teach students to be risk-averse, then as a culture, we stagnate. Risk is the fuel behind innovation and knowledge.

The Austin Independent School District has already recognized the problem, and has adopted this policy. As educational leaders of the community, Westlake needs to do the same. The current system discourages risk-taking, models safe behaviors that students will carry into their adult lives and it discourages participation in a wide range of activities for high-achieving students. As long as the top 10 percent GPA cutoff is above 100, the school is discouraging participation because of the chance that a student could drop out of the top 10 percent. Let’s encourage intellectual and physical development, and discourage manipulating a system. I wish we could change the top 10 percent system, but we can’t. What we can do is focus on what is happening under the roof of Westlake High School.