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Class Rank and Modified Instruction

photo of a graduate hugging her parent

As joyful as graduation can be for students, families, and educators, it’s also a time that raises questions about local district honors and automatic admission to state-funded institutions of higher education. One area of concern is how class rank is calculated for courses in which a student receives modified instruction.  

Districts often ask if a student can be displaced from the top ten percent of a graduating class by another student who receives modified instruction in most or all courses and has a higher grade point average or numerical grade average. While a district might consider weighting a course where a student receives special education services in a separate and lower tier than other courses, that could be problematic. According to TASB Legal Services’ Legal Tips, “The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has determined that weighted grade systems that place special education courses alone on the bottom tier of a grading scale discriminate based on disability.” 

Policy Service has insights to help your district honor the effort of all students at commencement and avoid concerns about discrimination in calculating class rank for local graduation honors. 

Accommodation vs. Modification 

Students receiving special education services may be provided accommodations, modifications, or both. Accommodations do not change the rigor of instruction in a course. Examples of accommodations include extra time for assignments or the use of text-to-voice technology. A student with a disability who receives accommodations must demonstrate mastery of the same Texas essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) that a non-disabled peer does and may receive those accommodations in any instructional setting. A student who receives accommodations in a course should earn the same weight for the course as a student who does not receive accommodations. 

Modifications change the rigor of instruction provided and the depth of knowledge a student learns. A student’s admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee may determine modified instruction is appropriate, based on the student’s individualized education plan (IEP), and the student will not be required to master the TEKS for the course. TEA’s guidance on IEP goal setting encourages setting rigorous expectations and assigning a grade that reflects a student’s mastery of individualized instructional content.  Weighting special education courses as a separate category not only risks claims of discrimination but may also send the message through policy that the time, energy, and effort that students with disabilities expend to learn is of less value than that of their non-disabled peers. 

Automatic Admission vs. Local Graduation Honors 

The relationship between state requirements for automatic admission and local graduation honors can be complex. To qualify for automatic admission, state law requires that a student graduate in the top ten percent of their high school class and meet at least one of the following additional criteria:  

A student who receives modified instruction in a single instructional area may rank in the top ten percent of their class and may also meet at least one of the other criteria for automatic admission.  

However, a student who receives modified instruction in most or all courses may rank in the top ten percent of their class but is unlikely to meet one of the other criteria for automatic admission. Nevertheless, the district may honor this student locally along with the others in the top ten percent because a district’s local honors are completely independent from state requirements for automatic admission.  

Most districts’ local policies about class ranking [see EIC(LOCAL)] note that the district’s eligibility criteria for local graduation honors only apply to local recognitions and shall not restrict class rank for the purpose of automatic admission under state law. Local honors may overlap with automatic admission criteria but are not identical. 

Valedictorian and Salutatorian 

Many districts require the valedictorian and salutatorian to meet other criteria in addition to having the highest and second-highest rank, respectively. In most districts, the valedictorian and salutatorian must also meet a residency requirement, graduate in exactly eight semesters, and complete the foundation program with the distinguished level of achievement. The foundation program requirement generally precludes students who receive modified instruction in most or all courses from this recognition. Consider contacting your policy consultant to revise EIC(LOCAL) if your district would like to update the criteria for valedictorian and salutatorian.  

Local Honors, Local Choice 

Districts have a great deal of discretion in determining qualifications for local honors, so long as the qualifications do not unfairly discriminate. Administrative regulations are the best place to delineate qualifications for cum laude graduates, top ten students, or students who receive recognitions such as service awards.  Your policy consultant can help your district communicate your local values through policy, administrative regulations, and practice. 

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