Point: Freshmen are held back without advanced options

Ellen Gantenbein , Staff Writer

Many underclassmen sit in their standard classes chewing the end of their pencils, trying to keep their eyes open while the teachers before them relay information they’ve heard a hundred times and their peers are interested in anything but focusing. Many older students wish they would have had the opportunity to take advanced classes during their first years of high school, an opportunity which unfortunately isn’t offered at South. Junior Tasha Holtman said “I felt that during my freshman year I wasn’t challenged enough and that I actually lost a lot of the skills that I gained in middle school as opposed to strengthening them.”

It’s very important to get students started in rigorous courses as soon as possible. Although South already has a rigorous curriculum in general compared to other schools, that doesn’t mean a lot. On paper it looks good but what happens in classes can often look a lot different.

As much as general equality is and should be endorsed, not every student should be treated equally academically, for everyone’s benefit. Just as there are certain classes to benefit under achieving students, there should be an equal amount of resources to aid students who are above their level, so that they can continue to improve upon their talents instead of regressing. English teacher David Rathbun echoed “everyone is supposed to be together, everyone is supposed to be equal, everyone has equal opportunity, well thats fine but if the curriculum isn’t challenging enough for the bright ones then thats a problem”

Students don’t feel challenged enough in their standard core classes as underclassmen, when they don’t have other options. Sophomore Izzy Rousmaniere stated ‘I’ve had a lot of classes the last couple of years that haven’t been particularly interesting or challenging to me” Freshman Veronica Hayes echoed this saying “sometimes I feel limited in my normal classes.”

In my own personal experiences I would agree. Especially freshman year, a lot of my classes didn’t cover a lot of material or move very quickly at all. I hardly ever got homework, and a lot of my teachers treated students like we still needed babysitters. To add to that, a number of my peers spent class chatting or throwing things, making it nearly impossible to get anything done.

At South AP United States history (APUSH) is required for all Sophomores to take. This effectively defeats the purpose of Advanced Placement. Yes, you get the label and supposedly the curriculum, but it’s not advanced placement if everyone is taking it. The setting and the overall pace is often similar to that of a regular class. Let it be known that not all advanced classes are created equal, and some sophomore APUSH classes can be challenging, a large part of this depends on the qualifications of the teacher.

Often honors or AP classes bring together students with higher drives to achieve. In turn, this leads to more productive class time and more criteria covered. When all of the students really want to be in a class there is a much different environment, one that is far more productive. The College Board website states “Honors classes often offer the same curriculum as regular classes but are tailored for high-achieving students — covering additional topics or some topics in greater depth.”

Higher level classes better prepare students to take more rigorous classes in the future and for college classes. English teacher Elizabeth Hanson notes “Students could even better prepare themselves for advanced classes in their 11-12th grade years. If students are given the option to participate in advanced courses as freshmen and sophomores, they may be more likely to take PSEO or CIS classes in the future.”

The College Board reports “Studies have shown that the rigor of a student’s high school curriculum is the single best predictor of success in college.” Not only do advanced classes better prepare students for college, sometimes even letting students claim early college credit, but they are also a big factor in college admissions. Often colleges will reweigh GPAs giving more points for advanced classes. There is also a connection between rigorous courses and acceptance rates.

Even with all of these positives, some may beg the question “might these types of classes encourage tracking?” “Tracking” is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “The placing of students in any of several courses of study according to ability, achievement, or needs. Also called ability grouping.” A lot of times this is also believed to affect socioeconomic and racial diversity within classes.

In my opinion, at a school like South, this wouldn’t be a major issue. Yes, students would be grouped according to scholastic ability, but as a result of their own choices. As all South classes, these additional advanced classes would be an option to everyone, without any prerequisites standing in the way. Students wouldn’t in any way be deliberately placed into these groups, nor would they necessarily continue on with the same students each year.

As tracking and ability grouping become a growing concern, the College Board encourages “all educators to make equitable access a guiding principle for their schools’ AP programs and to make every effort to ensure that their AP classes reflect the racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of their student body.” English teacher Phyllis Hayes notes “South encourages most students to take at least some of the higher level classes… I don’t see “tracking” as an issue at this point.”

Data from the Center for Public education states “Almost two-fifths of high school graduates ‘are not adequately prepared’ by their high school education for entry-level jobs or college-level courses, according to a survey of college instructors and employers.” This is even more of a reason to give students access to learning plans that suit them, so that students leave high school prepared to their highest potentials, at all levels.