Charleston County schools to make middle school honors class requirements consistent across district
When Moultrie Middle sixth-grader Asherai Gadsden took regular classes earlier this year, she made A’s and B’s and still had enough time to get into a little trouble.
Middle schools had to use at least four of the following six criteria to place rising sixth-, seventh- and eighth- grade students in honors courses. Each school had to use the first three criteria listed.
Students who earned 70 percent of the total points will be placed in honors. Placement in English honors will qualify students for social studies honors, and placement in math honors will qualify students for science honors.
The criteria are:
Measures of Academic Progress
Score greater than 85 percent: 2 points
Score 75 to 84 percent : 1 point
Less than 75: no points
Palmetto Assessment of State Standards
Score of “exemplary”: 2 points
Score of “met”: 1 point
Honors A : 2 points
Honors B : 1 point
Regular A : 1 point
Points range from zero to 2 and vary by subject (English vs. math) and grade level.
Recommendation for based on work ethic, class participation and assignment completion = 1 point
Identification as Gifted and Talented in an academic area
Identified: 1 point
Source: Charleston County School District
Her teachers moved her to honors classes in January, and the change has been significant.
Her grades aren’t quite as high, but Asherai, who already had been identified as gifted and talented, said she prefers the tougher classes and her improved behavior proves it.
“It challenges me a lot and it makes me take my work seriously,” she said.
School Principal Anna Dassing said Asherai is a good example of the kind of student who somehow slipped through the honors screening process. Dassing hopes a new system for identifying students for honors classes will prevent that from happening in the future.
Charleston County middle schools will use new criteria this fall to determine who takes honors classes. In the past, those kinds of decisions were more subjective and varied from school to school. The same school might have had different ways of determining honors placement for each grade.
Now, the district has identified six criteria as well as a scoring system that will be applied to every middle school student to assess the kinds of classes they need to take. Middle schools in the same geographic area, such as Mount Pleasant, West Ashley, James Island and North Charleston could adapt the prerequisites for their schools, but they each agreed on the requirement that students earn 70 percent of the available points to be placed in honors.
“We hope this will provide a more unified system to get more kids identified to get into honors,” said Lou Martin, the associate superintendent for middle and high schools.
CONSISTENTLY IDENTIFYING HONORS STUDENTS
Principals have been working for months to develop the new system. Schools don’t get extra money for students in honors classes, and those courses cover the same material as students in regular classes. Educators say the difference is the way the content is presented, as well as the depth and rigor of the lesson.
An honors class will be more student-driven and self-paced; regular classes could do the work, but they would ask more questions and need more support to be able to do so, Moultrie Middle sixth-grade science honors and regular teacher Deborah Belflower said.
She described the difference in how she approached a lesson about how animals maintain body temperature. Her honors students might do a self-directed lab while her regular students might read an article as a group and do interactive activities on the classroom Smartboard, she said.
Incoming sixth- through eighth-grade students will be evaluated this spring, and their honors status would apply for the entire school year, regardless of whether they move to a different school. Some schools had been requiring students to be reassessed for honors if they switched schools.
That situation created additional work for teachers, who had to write letters of recommendation and submit documentation supporting students’ honors placement, Belflower said. The new system should make that easier.
REACTION TO THE CHANGE
Middle school principals in each area either have met or plan to meet with parents to explain the new criteria.
The three West Ashley middle school principals hosted information sessions last week at West Ashley High. More than 50 sixth-graders and their parents attended one meeting, but less than a dozen seventh- and eighth-graders and their parents attended their session.
David and Angie Botzis came with their daughter Tori, who will be a sixth-grader this fall at C.E. Williams Middle. Their family didn’t realize the system was new but said they were glad all of the West Ashley schools would use the same criteria.
The criteria and point system was so straight-forward that they figured out during the meeting that Tori easily should qualify for honors placement.
The information presented went a long way in alleviating their concerns about the quality of courses that would be offered, as well as the academic level of students who would be in their daughter’s classes, David Botzis said. They liked that students achieving at similar levels would be grouped together, ensuring both overachievers and struggling students would get the assistance they need, he said.
Another parent, Traci Grant, attended the meeting because she has a daughter entering sixth grade this fall. Before the meeting, she worried about what the criteria would be, but she said her daughter should qualify for honors classes.
Grant had some additional unanswered questions, such as whether her daughter would receive points for being identified as gifted and talented if her elementary school didn’t offer that instruction, and she left those with the principals, who promised to be in touch.
“I do like that there’s no question about how certain students got into the honors program,” she said. “I feel OK (about the new system), but I’ll keep a close eye on it.”
Teachers’ opinions on the new system vary, with some supporting it and others feeling concerned that it will minimize their input in the process. Teacher recommendations are one of the criteria, but that factor isn’t weighted more heavily than others.
Dassing said she plans to be flexible on the 70 percent requirement, and that if parents have concerns, she’d take those on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s not set in stone,” she said. “We’re always going to do what’s in the best interest of the children.”
Dassing said she liked the new criteria and point system because it takes some of the subjectivity and personality out of the process. The school used to use a combination of students’ scores on the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards and Measures of Academic Progress, as well as teacher recommendations and grades to determine student placement in honors courses. But they didn’t have a clear-cut point system, she said.
A study of the district’s Advanced Placement courses recommended the district needed to grow its pipeline into these classes, and Martin said he hopes this change will help do that. The next step will be working to more clearly differentiate between the instruction for honors and regular courses, he said. They also need to do a better job of ensuring honors courses are consistently difficult among schools, he said.
“We’re making sure those standards are uniformly in place across all middle schools so that if you should move, you’re not going to be getting a different flavor of an honors course,” he said.
Reach Diette Courrégé at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.