Students Speak About Mixed Honors Classes
At Wednesday night's board meeting, middle school students voiced their opinions about how challenged they feel in some of their honors-level classes.
Some middle school students have strong opinions about how their classes are being taught this year. The students told school board members Wednesday that changing their honors-level classes has increased cheating and lowered the challenge of their coursework.
For months, parents from middle schools across the county have used the public testimony portion of school board meetings to voice concerns over heterogeneous grouping, the practice of mixing higher- and lower-performing students together in honors-level classes.
Annapolis High School has a plan in place to begin using “honors for all,” a form of heterogeneous grouping, in the fall. And there have been reports of the same type of grouping being used at middle schools across the county.
Three eighth graders said that they have received straight A’s since the move to heterogeneous grouping, but don't feel like they "earned" the grades.
“I am rewarded for my grades, but I have not actually earned them, considering that no hard work is actually required,” said one Central Middle School student.
Another Central student said she doesn’t feel challenged in the classrooms, and has observed more cheating since the classes were mixed with other students.
“In the last two quarters of the year, I have observed more cheating than in my sixth and seventh grade years combined,” she said. “Some days the teacher will spend days of instructing the same material because of lower-level comprehension, and we will not have time to work and apply it.”
Central Middle School Principal Millie Beall said the reports at Wednesday's meeting were the first she has heard of the increased cheating.
"I haven’t gotten any reports from cheating in classrooms. I’ve talked with the teachers and they have not detected it but they’ll put their ears up and have it on the radar," she said.
The Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) held an informational meeting regarding the grouping of students this month. Fresh from hearing from parents during that meeting, CAC Chairman LaToya Staten advised the board on Wednesday that county schools should move forward slowly with integrating heterogeneous grouping, calling the results mixed.
Staten said students of lower socioeconomic standings should be pushed towards more rigorous learning. In discussions with parents, Staten said some believed these students would be disruptive in the classrooms. But she believes they must be challenged in order to be engaged.
“This is something that has been avoided in discussions about heterogeneous groupings, but it’s there, and it’s not going away,” she said.
The testimonies matched the fears parents have expressed during the last six months—that the academic bar would be raised for lower-performing students but lowered for higher-performing students.
Parents like Patricia Meinhold urged the school board to take action on the matter, and keep the line of communication open.
The board has not formalized any policy relating to heterogeneous grouping. Some, including board president Patricia Nalley, have made statements during and after meetings that they are in support of it. However, they have said it was up to principals and teachers to make those decisions, not the board.
At a board meeting in December, a panel of three middle school teachers gave a report on the “scheduling of middle school students,” a process they called leveling, but others say resembles heterogeneous grouping. During that panel, board members spoke in favor of the grouping process.
Edgewater-Davidsonville Patch Editor Jonathan Moynihan contributed to this story.