District moving away from honors


In an effort to provide equal opportunity to challenging curriculum for students throughout the district, RJUHSD has started reevaluating honors courses and looking into options outside the honors model. An example of this transition on RHS’ campus includes Pre-Calculus, which as of this year no longer has an honors equivalent.

According to RJUHSD assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Jess Borjon, the district is moving away from honors to in part avoid separating students into those who take “honors” courses and those who don’t – both in terms of classroom environment and college admissions.

“[Honors] separates kids,” Borjon said. . It makes them the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’”

According to RHS principal David Byrd, part of the motivation behind reducing the number of honors courses is to focus on ensuring college-prep courses are actually that, so there is no need for a halfway step between CP and AP.

“With the honors option, it ends up being the halfway and intermediate step from your everyday college prep and your advanced college level curriculum,” Byrd said. “We are trying to remove half measures and half steps and ‘half challenging.’”

In areas where there is no AP or other advanced option, RHS may continue to offer an honors course. For instance, with Honors English 10, there is no alternative for an advanced sophomore English class as of now; that course will continue to be an honors course.

Honors English 10 teacher Amy Mowrer feels that the class is a necessary step for giving students the skills they need in an AP course, even though it isn’t one itself.

“With English, I think it’s very clear that Pre-Ap English 9 and Honors English 10 are preparing students for that work in AP,” Mowrer said. “Calling it honors is kind of an old-fashioned term.”

Mowrer believes it is the differences between Pre-Calc and English that determine whether they need to be called an honors course.

“When we are talking about Pre-Calc, we are already indicating a degree of advancement by merely taking that class,” Mowrer said. “That is not true for Honors English 10 and CP English 10; everyone has to take it. The differentiation there to set students up for the AP course strikes me as warranted.”

However, in terms of science courses, the new NGSS science courses will serve as the standard curriculum that students receive; then, if students want to continue with the curriculum to a more challenging class, they can take the AP equivalent.

In subjects where there is not an AP course available, RJUHSD is looking into other alternatives, including offering dual-enrollment courses – which are effectively college courses taught on the high school campus.

As such, dual-enrollment courses offer both high school and college  credit.

This is the first year RJUHSD has offered a dual-enrollment course; the district hopes to increase the number offered in coming years.

Currently, it is subsidizing teachers to help them get their masters in a specific subject area, so they can teach dual-enrolled courses.

“Some colleges offer dual-enrollment while you’re in high school,” Borjon said.“Many schools across the country are also decreasing or eliminating their honors track program and so students step up to take AP or a college dual-enrollment course.”

While this transition would be an entirely new modification to the current courses of study, Byrd believes that the aim for academic success in students will remain unchanged.

“We’re dedicated to an Advanced Placement Curriculum,” Byrd said. “We understand that it is essentially taking college level curriculum and giving every kid the opportunity to access that.”

Borjon also feels that schools are sacrificing little by eliminating honors courses and that those raising concerns about fewer opportunities to augment GPAs may not fully understand how college admission boards evaluate prospective students.

“I’ve been attending workshops and professional trainings with admissions counselors from the most prestigious universities in the country and every single time Stanford, Yale, MIT, Berkeley, the answer is always the same. Not taking an honors class does not hurt you if there are no honors classes at your school,” Borjon said. “If there are honors classes at your school and you’re not taking them, then that would be founded upon. They will not penalize students that don’t take a class that doesn’t exist.”