DALLAS - Many high school students work hard to earn the highest grade point average they can, and for good reason.
A high class rank can open doors to the nation's top colleges, competitive programs, and help to land scholarships.
But now, some students argue, a new type of high school is putting them at a disadvantage.
These high school students have been following their class ranks closely since freshman year.
But in the middle of their junior year, something changed.
"We started figuring it out when all our ranks were lower than it was before,” Joy Lin, a junior at South Grand Prairie High School said.
Lin says she was ranked number four in her class, but even though her course load and grades did not drop, her class rank suddenly did.
“Then I was ranked 10 this year,” she said.
The students discovered the students surpassing them where not students in any of their AP classes.
"I just was shocked that there were 10 people ahead of me, that I didn't know who they were," Oscar Weng, a junior at South Grand Prairie High School said.
They contend that their class ranks fell because they were being compared with students in Early College High School, with a different curriculum.
“We were not given the same opportunity,” Lin said.
In Texas, ranking in the top ten percent of your class allows you automatic admission into many of the state's colleges.
Being in the top six percent, gets you into U.T. Austin.
And there's money on the line, a high class rank can land you a scholarship thru the Texas top ten percent scholarship program.
"It hurts a lot,” Lin said. “We've worked so hard since the 9th grade to get to where we are now, having it just taken away from us."
Students must enter as freshmen to get into the Early College High School Program
While these students did have the opportunity to enroll as freshman, they chose not to.
The state defines the program as "designed for students who would otherwise not attend college."
Bailey Nguyen, a junior, has been planning to be a Texas Longhorn since he could talk.
"For me to take AP calculous my junior year, which is what I'm doing now, I had to take algebra 1 high school in 7th grade,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen is not an at-risk student, so he didn't see early college high school as an option.
Instead, he enrolled in AP courses, which require rigorous exams to pass.
But with his class rank now being leapfrogged by the students in early college high school...he feels he's now at a disadvantage; one that could hurt his chances to get into a competitive engineering school.
"With a lower rank it will be much harder for me to get into the program I want to. "
"It felt so unfair that we were sure it had to be a mistake," Elizabeth Weathers, Nguyen’s mother said.
She went along with her son to file a complaint with the school.
"Courses that are eligible for the heavy weighting should be open to all students," she told us.
The principal responded in a letter, "if you declined to scrutinize the options and advantages/disadvantages because you felt you didn't fit the student typecast, that was your choice. The materials were available for all that would have clearly explained grade point weights schedules, and class offerings."
While Grand Prairie ISD did not have anyone available to speak on camera, the district's statement said 'Extra-curricular activities' played a role in why they combined the schools.
"If we had implemented a separate TEA school for the early college program, those students may have faced more obstacles to participating in gopher or warrior baseball, band, theatre, football, and more....
“Through a mixture of advanced placement and dual credit courses available to all, students enrolled in the main campus program have an equitable opportunity to pursue weighted grade courses as well.
“In fact, students enrolled in the main campus program (not early college) have more opportunity to take weighted grade courses during their junior and senior years."
Dallas ISD’S head of early college high schools, Usamah Rodgers, helped pioneer early college high schools with Dallas ISD.
She says that they have learned a lot about communication, in the six years of having one of the first early college high schools combined with a traditional school.
“Is it a challenge to make sure kids on the traditional track have the same opportunity as those taking early college classes," a Fox 4 reporter asked.
“I think it is about making sure that there is awareness in the system that if you are not attuned to making sure you are advising all students appropriately, coaching them to maximize all the opportunities in a school, there could be that potential,” Rodgers said.
In a letter to 20 students who complained about the class rank, principal donna grant contends that AP students do have the same opportunity to take classes where one can earn a 5.0, over the traditional high school 4.0.
The principal concluded in her letter to the students, "Never act on assumptions, always ask yourself, 'What do I not know?', then set about to answer it."
Nguyen says that's exactly what he's working to do.
“I think it's obvious we are serious about what we're doing."
Nguyen, the engineering student we spoke with, maintains that comparing the two groups of students is wrong because the class options are so different.
Concerned about his lower class rank, Nguyen is now looking at other schools to apply to, in case he does not get into U.T. Austin's engineering school.