As the school year comes to a close, next year’s schedule and the courses you and your peers are taking are the topic of conversation. Surely, you have heard people mention their extremely rigorous course load for the upcoming school year. Naturally, the words “honors” and “AP” have been tossed around in everyday conversations.
So what are honors and AP courses and why are they such a topic of discussion amongst North students? To start, Advanced Placement (AP) classes were created by the College Board to give students the opportunity to potentially earn college credit. These classes, as well as the AP exams, are notorious for being extremely challenging and properly suited for the most motivated and disciplined students.
Students are admitted to AP courses through a teacher recommendation as a result of meeting a minimum grade requirement, and sometimes through a self selection process. Students may self-select into one AP course per year.
Honors classes fall somewhere in between AP and Regents courses but are still rigorous nonetheless. Some students are more inclined towards honors courses as a middle ground between the oftentimes overwhelming workload of AP classes but want to be challenged in ways Regents classes are not properly suited for.
However, the admissions and selection process for these kinds of classes is slightly different; in order to enroll in honors classes, there is no self-selection process. It is entirely dependent on the teacher’s recommendation, likely influenced by a student’s course grade at the time of evaluation. This process may raise a common concern: why is it possible to self-select into APs, but not honors?
As somebody who has experienced this myself, one of the main reasons why many people who strive to be in an honors level class are not admitted is because they missed a minimum grade requirement by one or two points, possibly due to an outlier quarter which was worse performing than the rest.
Some teachers see past this and sign off for the recommendation, but others will stand firm in refusal to recommend a student. This also brings up the issue of parity between teachers; students who have lenient teachers are more likely to have the opportunity to pursue a higher level course than teachers who hand out recommendations more conservatively.
Another common issue is that some courses are quite different from one another, but still rely on a recommendation from a prerequisite. For example, a student entering high school hoping to enroll in Geometry Honors needs to have a minimum course grade of 90 in Algebra 1. As someone who has had exposure to both Algebra 1 and Geometry, I can say they are very different from one another and poor performance in one does not necessarily guarantee poor performance in the other.
These examples come up all too frequently in other courses as well: Earth Science and Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Geometry and Algebra 2, Global History and United States History. All of these courses cater to different students with varying interests and strengths, and many students and teachers agree they are somewhat different to one another. Unfortunately, every single course on this list relies almost entirely on the former in order to participate in it.
This issue has caused controversy between teachers and students alike. “If someone messes up in Trigonometry but they really want to go into Precalculus Honors…they should be able to have the option to try,” student Carina expressed. E Evalina, another student, thought differently, saying that “students should be recommended to ensure they actually have the knowledge to participate”.
Many students came up with interesting compromises. “Students should have the opportunity to self-select into one honors class,” similarly to how the AP system works, Angelina suggests. Stanley says that there should be a “test or some sort of measurement to show that a student will be able to succeed” in an honors course.
One of the strongest arguments by teachers not completely in favor of the self-selection process is that most teachers have been teaching for many years, and know if a student can or cannot handle a harder course.
One teacher who was interviewed but would like to keep their name anonymous stated, “self select is good but there should be a minimum grade requirement to be able to self select into an honors or AP class.” They stressed that “teacher recommendations are very important, because teachers know what the workload and the expectations are for those courses and sometimes students don’t know that.”
In addition, it could cause schoolwide scheduling issues when “many students end up dropping if they weren’t recommended by teachers” to take a harder class. If those students decide to drop to a Regents class, “there may not be a place to go if many of those Regents classes are full.”
It is truly an interesting revelation to see how many students and teachers are passionate about this issue. With so many varying opinions, it’s hard to tell if any policy change is on the way. Right now, the students and teachers just have to hope the school and administration has the community’s best interests in mind.