Up Front Opinions: What Should We Call THOSE Kids?

This issue may be trivial, but it’s been gnawing at me for a while. When we separate students into English classes based on ability, scores, clout, or any objective or subjective measure, what should we call the classes and the students in those classes—Accelerated, Advanced, Honors, Regular, Remedial? I have a suspicion that the labels we choose may reveal our subconscious attitudes toward those students.

For example, if the courses for our brightest students are “Accelerated,” does that mean we go faster? If so, then the label is accurate. But I’m concerned that “acceleration” is not necessarily a desirable quality for literacy development. Do faster reading and faster writing make a student a better reader and writer? I don’t think so. If we refer to our brightest students as “Accelerated,” what is the comparable term for our struggling students? Decelerated? Slow? Certainly not the R word!

Many schools refer to those courses and students as “Remedial.” But remedial doesn’t mean slower; it means to remedy or fix something. Is that what we’re doing in those classes—fixing those kids? Does that imply that something is wrong with them, that they are somehow deficient? If so, then what about those bright kids? They obviously don’t need any remedies or any kind of “fixing.” (Or do they?) Are we just improving them without any sense of them being deficient in any way? Couldn’t we do that with students of any ability level?

If our brightest students are “Advanced,” what exactly does that mean? Are they more sophisticated in some way? If so, that’s great, and Advanced is a good word for them. But what should we then call the students at the other end of the spectrum—Regressed? Uncivilized?

Which brings us to Honors. Honors. What makes a stratum of the student body worthy of being institutionally labeled “Honors”—IQ? A particular entrance exam score? Parental insistence on registration in a particular course level? Do intelligence and integrity go so hand in hand that a bright student must automatically be regarded as inherently worthy of honor? If the brightest students are honor students, does that mean struggling students are dishonorable, and the regular-level students are simply un-honored? Is it possible for other students to become “honor students,” or are most students forever consigned to academic castes devoid of honor regardless of their character and behavior?

I know I’ve raised many more questions than answers here. Students pay attention to labels, probably more than they should. I’m concerned though that the way we label students before they even walk in the door may have unintended effects.

Views: 575

Tags: advanced, honors, labels, students

Comment by Jose Gonzalez Castro on October 18, 2011 at 8:19pm
I feel like many people do judge others because of the classes they are currently taking. I dont think that being in an honors class necesarily means that they are smarter. I think that it means that they are able to handle more work and accomplish it. Then that brings me to the question, Does the amount of work you do you determine how smart you are? So I guess I am not too sure how to answer this question, but I am definately sure that everyone has the capability to learn and absorb information.
Comment by Amelia West on October 18, 2011 at 8:24pm
You bring up many good points. One point that I would like to elaborate on is this: Are the honors students really "honors" anymore when there are so many of them? If more and more students are doing well in school and taking harder classes, doesn't that almost negate the term honors? With the connotation in my mind, (and maybe I am wrong) I think that Honors implies a special ability that distinguishes a person above others in the same field. Now that there are so many high achieving students, do we have to be more selective to get this same "honors" label? Do we come up with a new level and label for those who exceed even the expectations of an honors student? Just some more un-answered questions to think about... Thank you for this post, it really got me thinking!
Comment by Kathleen Tresnowski on October 18, 2011 at 8:42pm
Along with Amelia, I agree that almost everyone I know is in honors classes and it almost takes away the sense of "honors" or "gifted" courses. I also know many kids who had the option of taking honors classes, but then decided to take regular courses so they could "get an easy A" but honestly, is the grade really that important? Obviously grades are important, but I think that expanding your mind and thoughts to the highest capacity is more important than a simple letter grade. I also agree that students pay attention to labels. Labels are a huge part of growing up and in high school many kids can be insecure so they tend to pay attention to labels far more than they should which is truly unfortunate. Overall this post is something I have always pondered and I find everyones' contributions very interesting!
Comment by Soumya Vhasure on October 18, 2011 at 10:43pm

This is a really interesting post! I've never looked at the terms in their literal senses before. I think we use terms like "remedial", "accelerated", "advanced", and "honors" not because students in accelerated classes are taught faster or because students in honors classes have the integrity to be considered honorable (that one got a chuckle out of me :D ) but because we need to call them something other than just their course codes. It's the same thing with AP (Advanced Placement) classes. "Advanced" doesn't necessarily mean college level (which is what AP courses are), but they're given that title because they have to call them something. My friend's school in Naperville uses the term "enriched" instead of "honors." "Accelerated", "advanced" and "honors" all have positive connotations, which is why we use these words to label courses that require more effort, commitment, and intelligence.

I also think it is becoming easier to be placed in these higher level classes because the standard is consistently being lowered. The traditional grading scale has been lowered from 93 (A), 83 (B), 73 (C) to 90 (A), 80 (B), 70 (C). This creates less competition because it becomes easier to be in that top 5% or have a single digit class rank. And although there is less competition in high school, the real competition (getting in college and even beyond that in the "real world") is getting fiercer everyday. While people might say that actually learning something is more important than a letter grade, many students only care about that letter because that could make their college dreams or break them. Our education system is getting more and more complicated.

Comment by Michael Chemello on October 19, 2011 at 10:33am
This is pure truth! We separate people into different courses because of their abilities. However, that doesn't mean they are stupid if they are not in honors or accelerated, they just need more attention and help to strengthen their abilities so they can eventually be on the same level as the honor/accelerated students. All the classes are trying to get to the same milestone, but all it depends on is your ability and the attention you need to get there.
Comment by Michelle Baum on October 19, 2011 at 3:24pm
I agree that students are judged based on their classes, as well.  I have heard people say things like "Oh shes is in honors classes, so she must be smart," or "Earth Science is for the people to dumb to be in Chemistry." I do not agree with these labels. I believe honors classes are for the students who have the desire to go above and beyond what the teacher asks you to do, and have the ability to keep up with a fast pace schedule. That does not make them any more "smart" than students in on level courses. They can just understand a concept quicker than others. Also, I like your question about how does reading faster make you better. I do not think so. If you read quickly you are more likely to skip over important details embedded between the lines. On the other hand, if you take your time you can stop and think about why an author used a certain word, or if there is a hidden connection the author want you to make. If you read at a comfortable pace, I believe you will end up with a much better understanding of the literary work than if you just read it as fast as you could.
Comment by Jamey Robar on October 20, 2011 at 9:06pm
I totally connect with that last part about how we as students are always asking "Are you in Honors?" I found myself asking if I wanted to fight to be in Honors Chem with the chance of getting a bad grade due to the fact it was honors and that I was in Honors Bio how come I couldn't be in Honors Chem? It especially effects Fremd because we are so competitive about our grades and who was the highest GPA and what our ACTS are and how I'm smarter than you.  I also realize that a lot of people, including myself at times, think that the people in classes that are "lower" than mine our stupid and can't handle it. when in fact they are taking the class that is what most people do take and I'm actually different for taking a class abouve what the "normal" is. Honors/Accelerated/Advanced is not for the smart kids all the time. Some kids take it because theycan keep up with a faster paced class and a more challanging schedual.
Comment by Annie Parng on October 23, 2011 at 10:15pm

I agree that students pay too much attention to labels. At certain times in a person's life, people pay attention to their social status. To a student, the social status may be how "advanced" you are in classes. I think this might be a cause for depression in teens. When a student is judged based on how "intelligent" they are in classes, they may have lower morale because other people seem to think that they are not smart enough to join the higher classes. These are very good points you bring up about the class names. I think that these names should be changed in order to accommodate everyone and not separate students into certain groups.  

Comment by Alex Pejsz on October 24, 2011 at 10:59pm
I think that labels are an enormous part of high school, which is really unfair. People should be able to be themselves, but are always afraid of being labeled "weird". However, we are all weird in our own way, so why shouldn't people be able to take the classes they want, without judgement.

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