Originally appeared in the CAS Weekly Newsletter
Dear Legal Mailbag:
As an assistant principal at a large high school, I often have to answer parent questions about academics, sports, transportation, excusal – you name it. Right before the holiday break, a parent stopped by my office and asked me to tell her what her son’s grade point average and class rank are. As you might imagine, I have gotten this question plenty of times, and I gave this parent my stock answer – “your child’s GPA is ___, and we don’t compute class rank.”
This answer has always ended such a conversation with a parent – until now. This parent wasn’t buying it, and she responded with a smirk, “C’mon you! I am not as stupid as I may look. I know that you guys compute class rank! There is even a law on it.”
I know that we know what a student’s class rank is, though we don’t publish or otherwise share that information with parents or students. But I had no idea what she was talking about. Rather than look uninformed, however, I simply winked at her and told her that I would check with the “powers that be” and be back to her after the break.
Can Legal Mailbag tell me what is going on? We are now back after the break, and every time the phone rings, I think it may be the parent following up.
What’s Up with That?
Dear What’s Up:
The parent must be aware of recently enacted Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220q, but unless the district has records that show her son’s precise class ranking, she will simply be entitled to information as to whether her son’s class ranking in accordance with that statute places him below or above the cut-off for automatic admission to certain colleges and universities in Connecticut.
In the 2021 legislative session, the General Assembly established the Connecticut Automatic Admissions Program, now codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 10a-11h and 10-220q. The latter statute requires that, beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, all school districts compute the grade point average (GPA) of each student who has completed eleventh grade in accordance with a standardized method in order to determine whether a student’s class rank percentile will permit the student to be automatically admitted to institutions of higher education that participate in the program.
The method established by the Board of Regents for Higher Education for computing class rank is based on the College Board formula, which uses unweighted grades. After computing class rank in accordance with that formula (which may differ from the methodology used by the district), school officials must then determine the corresponding class rank percentile for each student. This calculation must be made to determine whether such student’s class rank percentile is above or below the minimum established by the Board of Regents for Higher Education for the Connecticut Automatic Admissions Program established pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10a-11h (which grants qualifying students automatic admission to participating Connecticut colleges and universities).
The statute further provides that boards of education must then share such a student’s GPA and whether that such student is above or below the minimum class rank percentile with (A) the student, (B) the student’s parent or guardian, (C) the Department of Education (in the form and manner prescribed by the Department), and (D) upon the student’s request, a participating institution for the purposes of applying to such participating institution under the Connecticut Automatic Admissions Program. However, this law does not require boards of education to publish class rankings or to include the class rank thereby derived on student transcripts.
Given the foregoing, state law does not require that you give the parent the information she is requesting. As noted, this new requirement to share whether a student’s class rank percentile qualifies for the Connecticut Automatic Admission Program applies only to students who have completed eleventh grade. Moreover, the formula your district uses for computing student GPAs and class rank may be different from the methodology as established for the Program. Indeed, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220g requires that your board of education adopt a policy requiring that students and their parents or guardians be informed whether GPA is weighted or not weighted in your district, and whether a grade in an honors class, advanced placement class, International Baccalaureate program, Cambridge International program, dual enrollment, dual credit or early college is or is not given added weight. If your district uses weighted grades, the GPA computed as required by Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-220q may well be different because the GPA calculation under the statute is based on unweighted grades.
Further information concerning the Connecticut Automatic Admission Program is available at www.ctschoollaw.com, Shipman’s School Law Blog. See, Antonetti, Fay and Richman Smith, “Connecticut Automatic Admissions Program – What High Schools Need to Know.”
Finally, as usually is the case, there may be more to the story. In the 2022 legislative session, the General Assembly revised Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-15b, addressing class rank in a different context. Prior to the revision, a student’s parent or legal guardian already had the right to access “educational, medical or similar records maintained in such student’s cumulative record.” The revised law adds class rank to the type of record that may be accessed.
As you likely know, records that your district maintains are subject to the Freedom of Information Act. Grades, of course, are normally exempt from disclosure, but that is only because grades and related information are confidential under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1232g (FERPA). That confidentiality does not extend to parents, and because parents are entitled to such information under FERPA (and state law), they are also entitled to that information under the FOIA. The FOIA does not require that you ever create records, and you will not have to do any calculations that may be necessary to derive information the parent is requesting. But if the district calculates GPA and class rank, the parent is entitled to that information under the FOIA, whether or not the district generally disseminates such information.