Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rethinking Honors and Weighted Grades

A central tenant of the common core state standards is an increase in rigor and expectations for all students.  If college and career readiness are truly synonymous terms; all students must therefore be exposed to the same high quality curriculum that prepares for remediation free coursework experiences at post-secondary institutions.  Where then, does an honors section fit in with this model?

The traditional knock on honors is that students end up doing more 'work' to justify the course designation and the weight often associated with the grade.  Teachers feel the pressure to make the experience rigorous, and sometimes have trouble finding the balance between quality (rigor) of assignments versus quantity (extra because you're in honors and you should be able to handle it).  With the raising of standards and expectations for all students, is Honors at risk for becoming marginalized or obsolete?

Another knock on Honors courses and students is the lack of motivation and solid work ethic for many.  Once in the class, with the knowledge that the weight will be granted no matter what, many students often settle for a certain grade and do not stretch themselves to their full potential.  The lack of an AP exam at the end of the course or other such incentive to work diligently throughout the year often allows students to slip into coast mode.

As the PARCC assessments get closer, what if schools were able to sieze this moment to radically re-think how honors designations are earned by students.  Instead of having the title 'Honors' bestowed upon you at the beginning of the year because you just happened to be in the class, what would happen if you had to work for the designation, and it could only be earned by your performance on the PARCC assessment?

As the flipped classroom, blended learning, and personalized learning pathways become more prevalent in courses, students in collegiate level classes will have opportunities to learn and grow to their highest potential.  So, if in a given week a student demonstrates mastery of a certain concept, that particular student can work on extension activities designed to enrich and extend learning and understanding.  These pathways can be tied to authentic, real world applications of the concepts, which will prepare students to apply the material in meaningful ways.

The question is, how do you sell this as something other than 'more work' or a penalty for being smart? The key is to leverage the PARCC assessments themselves.  Early indications are that the assessments will be much more rigorous than the current Ohio Graduation Tests.  The personalized pathways that students would invest time in could be sold as a means to prepare to excel on the PARCC assessments. The payoff for this extra work/initiative would be an honors GPA add-on for only the highest scorers.

The system would work like this.  Every student who earns a four (the minimum benchmark score to be considered at a remediation free level) would receive a GPA weight add on of .01, and those who score a 5 would receive a weight add on of .02.  Instead of giving the weight away at the front end merely for enrolling in the class, students would have the incentive to prepare diligently throughout the year in order to have a chance to truly EARN the add-on weight.  This would solve the problem of rigor at both the collegiate and the honors level, because the course is now as rigorous as you want it to be, based on your individual strengths and motivations.  It also takes a ton of pressure off of the teacher, because it de-couples the grade earned in the class from the associated credit and the weight.  The student alone controls the outcome, based on performance, as opposed to the games that get played with assignments and grades currently in honors sections where the weight is already pre-supposed.

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