## Everyone Can Be Super

“Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super —- no one will be.”

Syndrome, The Incredibles

There seems to be more honors classes this year then any other year I’ve been teaching. And of course, why wouldn’t there be. Every teacher wants to teach an honors class and every student wants an honors credit. The problem is that not every student has the drive to work at the level required to be successful in these classes. This is going to be an interesting year.

As a parent, I hope my own sons will work hard and strive to take higher level math courses, however, I never want to place them in a situation that is not right for them. I had a conversation recently with a parent and I expressed my concern for the placement of her son in my honors level class. Her response was, “I know he will struggle, but all his friends are in that class.” That is exactly the right reason to take a more rigorous math class. (Sarcasm)

I’m not sure how to solve this problem. As a school, we have investigated eliminating all Honor classes and creating Honor contracts. Personally, I am researching the best placement techniques for incoming 8th graders. I have to admit, I am at a loss. The State of Tennessee is helping us out on this matter. To earn an Honors Diploma, a student must earn a minimum score on the ACT.

I struggle with the fact that I want more students to take higher level mathematics (PreCalculus, Calculus, Statistics), but not at the risk of watering down our curriculum or standards. This is one way that I think SBG (Standards Based Grading) has helped. It provides an opportunity for the struggling students to learn the material at his or her own pace and reassess.

I’m inclined to say that the system should be set up so that not everyone succeeds/exceeds (I’m feeling flacky on which). Those who work hard and are good at that subject exceed in that subject, everyone else’s grade reflect that they didn’t. I truly wish that “average” was a C, not an A or a B, and that people were okay with the fact that their kids ‘are unique, just like everyone else’. But then I’ve got some other fairly radical ideas about how education should work, its just that this one would be fairly easy to implement — if everyone was on board (yes, very big ‘if’).

Alas, I rant.

SBG will only help in this situation if it is done with reasonably tough assessments some of which are timed by the teacher, not the student, to avoid the cram-for-one-subject-and-forget phenomenon. The teacher must be willing to fail students who don’t learn the material, and not use the “A is average, B is bad, C is catastrophic” inflated system that has become so standard.

People want “honors” classes, because so many colleges automatically bump grades up one point for honors classes, so that “C” in Honors looks like “B” in the regular class. Make sure that the grading in the honors class reflects this adjustment. Your “B” students should have gotten As in a regular class for the same level of achievement.

Actually, “I know he will struggle, but all his friends are in that class” is not a bad reason for a kid to take a tougher math class, if it inspires him to work harder to keep up with them (and working harder is enough for him to keep up with the class). If it induces him to give up or to cheat, then it is not a good situation.

I agree that the SBG assessments need to be tough in an honors situation. This is my struggle now. I also like your observation on the inflated view of grades with the A, B, and C’s. You are right about the honors label and colleges. In our system, students get 3 points added onto theif final average for taking an honors class. This means a student who earns a 90(B) actually gets a 93(A) on his or her report card. My goal is to make my assessments challenging so this is accounted for.

I also want as many kids in honors who are willing to work to learn the material. I find several students in my class who aren’t willing to work. This is frustrating! Thanks for the comments.

Amber,

I am starting the SBG system this semester. My students will take their first “assessments” on monday. I am anxious to see how it goes. I am hoping I do not have to make 10 versions of each assessment! Those of us who have been teaching school for 20 or more years are so frustrated with the idea that “everyone” should take a math beyond Algebra II, that “everyone” should pass (if the teachers are good enough and make the lessons relevant enought) etc. This is not reality in my opinion and in the opinion of many of my peers. Let’s look at it from an athletic standpoint. Because if this theory is true of our “academic” abilities, then it must also be true of each of our athletic abilities. So, does

every student make the basketball team? Or are their students who just don’t have the athletic talent to play basketball no matter how hard they work, or maybe they are too short to play basketball no matter how much they practice. If “everyone” is capable of taking Pre-Calculus then why isn’t “everyone” capable of playing high school basketball? Because “everyone” isn’t capable of doing Pre-Calculus! Does that make them dumb? Absolutely not! Maybe they are the next Mozart or Michael Angelo. They are talented, they are smart, they are gifted, but they are not gifted or driven towards a love of mathematics. Oh what a boring world it would be if God had made us all “exactly” alike! He didn’t! So when will the powers that be realize this fact and let our students excel in the areas where they are “talented” instead of forcing them to take classes that will frustrate both them and us! As a mother of three kids, I know that all three of my children are very talented and gifted but guess what each has their own gifting. One, has graduated college with a degree in Aerospace Engineering (her giftings are in math/science), the other is a juinor in college majoring in Music (she is gifted in both bassoon and piano) and the third a senior in high school knows more about history/politics/government than I ever will. Did I make them all take HONORS math classes? Absolutely, not! Sorry for the rantings!

@Betsy Thanks so much for the comments. Please feel free to rant anytime. I love your athletic analogy. I admit the new TN standards are frustrating to say the least. Obsiously we have the same soap box.