Replace the AS classes at Mills High School with a weighted Honors system.
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Here at Mills, we have long employed a system that gives incoming freshmen and sophomores the liberty to choose between Advanced Standing (AS) and College Preparatory (CP) classes in English and history. AS classes are faster paced and more academically rigorous than CP classes, providing students with the opportunity to challenge ourselves.
However, this system provides no benefits for those that take the more advanced courses and presents no compelling incentives for students to take the risk, acting as a deterrent to our aspirations to strive for academic excellence. Despite the rigor of said courses, an “A” is still worth the same grade points as one received in a CP class. This completely disregards the difference in effort outputted and stress incurred.
As a result, we are pushing for the implementation of the Honors system. In this system, the same distinction between standard and advanced courses stands. The crucial difference is that Honors classes are weighted. This alleviates the problem of success-driven students taking substantial GPA-lowering punishments, especially since 20% of AS students surveyed would have rather received an A in a CP class than take the AS class. Additionally, students who would typically choose CP courses would inevitably be encouraged to take Honors classes.
Many in opposition are concerned about the competitive environment and have entertained the possibility of dismantling the current AS/CP system in favor of a uniform core curriculum for all underclassmen.
Academic tracking, or the grouping of students into sections based on academic ability, however, is irrelevant at Mills, as underclassmen under the AS/CP system have the liberty to select their classes. Enrolling in honors classes does not require testing but rather a commitment to invest significantly more time and diligence, which is rewarded by a grade bump.
The Fremont Union High School District and the San Francisco Unified School District are two of many in the Peninsula that offer Honors courses. Such schools as Lowell High School, Galileo Academy of Science and Technology, Lynbrook High School, Cupertino High School, among many others within those two school districts seem to admissions committees both academically able and accomplished in the view of competitive summer programs and prestigious universities.
When compared to applicants from other schools that already have an Honors system in place, many of us believe that we are at a disadvantage because we will have a lower GPA. Though many universities have now adopted a holistic approach to student acceptance, student GPA is still integral to the decision-making process, and it is no surprise that those who take many advanced classes have a higher chance of acceptance.
In scholarships, summer programs, and other extracurricular academic pursuits, our GPA also plays a major role. Extracurricular programs are another notable factor of college admission, and while it is not imperative to participate in an astronomical number of said programs, it adds greater substance and merit to our college applications.
Naysayers of the honors system would again claim that we currently participate in the race to have the most APs and least sleep by the end of senior year. Opponents would argue that weighted English and history classes will only serve to exacerbate student stress. Furthermore, they are reluctant to implement the Honors system because some of us may use the new Honors classes to increase our GPAs and engage in unhealthy competition.
As students, it is evident to us that we participate in this intriguing albeit detrimental contest to achieve a high cumulative GPA by senior year, but it is not to promote maladaptive behaviors. Juniors and seniors over the past few years have taken as many as three to five AP classes to make up for the lack of weighted underclassmen courses. Since there are little to no AP classes available to freshmen and sophomores, overloading on advanced courses as upperclassmen is the most reasonable way for us to prove to colleges our drive and ability to work under pressure. The implementation of weighted grades in underclassmen English and history classes will give students the option to spread out advanced classes over time while achieving the same high cumulative GPA.
Even for some of us who do not aim to take classes for the GPA boost, the Honors system will still serve to mitigate the stress that people often attribute to school by creating a grade buffer and incentivizing learning over grades. More often than not, it seems that we are continually obsessing over our grades and test scores. We forget to enjoy the experience of learning.
Forget appreciating the literary beauty of Fahrenheit 451 or pondering the lasting impacts of the two world wars on the modern world. We focus on contriving three-part paragraphs last-minute, slapping key vocabulary and filler text to maximize point value and increase essay length. We focus on flipping to the backs of our math textbooks during brunch or other classes to copy down answers on our notebooks. With a weighted class, we would be able to achieve grades that better parallel our efforts by allowing us to step away from our obsession with grades and instead focus on learning.
Therefore, if there are clear benefits to the Honors system, if it rewards underclassmen students for challenging themselves and creates a suitable learning environment while at the same time reducing student stress, with virtually no cost, we must urge the Mills High School administration to consider its implementation.
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