On Class Placements

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Tejas Vadali Most students view their placements, which came out last week, as a dichotomy: if they are in honors classes now, they will be recommended for and subsequently in honors classes later. And if they do not take any honors courses at the moment, chances are slim of ever seeing such a course on their transcripts. Latin has a “non-tracking” system in which students who demonstrate outstanding proficiency in certain courses can advance out of their projected “track” for the next year. However, all too often, it seems students get stuck in the same cycles, unable to take non-honors courses or higher level courses than they are able to. Placement in math courses can be crucial to many students’ high school careers and beyond. For example, some college engineering programs have a minimum requirement of BC Calculus for their students. However, students who are never recommended for Hon Accelerated Precalculus and Differential Calculus, or those who take Algebra I as freshmen, may never take BC Calculus as seniors. Additionally, if a student feels that they should be placed in a higher level class, that student and their parents or guardians must begin the protesting process with the school. In this regard, senior Avery Ellis feels that Latin’s “tracking” system does have some corrigible flaws. When asked whether he believes the “tracking” system is effective, Avery gave insights into his own experiences with it. AE: I think in general, it’s a pretty successful system. The four major departments where students can effectively transition from the non-honors track into the honors track, History, Math, Languages, and Sciences, do a very good job placing students where they should be placed. For example, I took Algebra I as a freshman, and I doubled up with Algebra II and Geometry as a Sophomore. When it came time to choose courses for my Junior year, I decided to speak with the Math department. When they saw my success in the previous classes I’d taken, they felt I would do pretty well in Honors Precalculus. In that regard, the “track” system is flexible, and I like how no placement is really final if a student demonstrates the necessary skill and aptitude to advance. However, I do think the “track” system does have its flaws. When I was a sophomore, I wanted to take either HUSH or AmCiv as a Junior, but Mr. Fript felt that another honors class in addition to the ones I was taking would be too much work for me to handle. He was coming from a good place, and I’m grateful that he was looking out for my well being, but I personally felt I was up to the challenge. In this way, it can be kind of intimidating to speak out against the system. You can protest a teacher’s decision if you want to, but if you ever have that teacher again, they’ll know that you were the one who said no, that you were the one who stood up to them. Regardless of whether that teacher still has a good relationship with you after protesting, there is this underlying fear that pervades your decision to protest. The track system could certainly be improved by encouraging active communication between students and teachers about placements, and I think that would help reduce the stigma associated with trying to protest a placement. Teachers have good intentions when recommending students for courses, and their ultimate goal is for students to enjoy themselves and learn at a pace which with they are comfortable. But it seems that when students do feel they have been misplaced, the path to a new placement is often an onerous task that ultimately becomes a headache. A student, who preferred to remain anonymous, was asked whether students should be able to place out of courses they have not taken and if that change would encourage academic curiosity. Anonymous: I 100% believe that if a student understands all the material given or required to pass a course, they should be able to test out of it. Speaking from the “I” perspective, I was enrolled in Algebra 1 freshman year, and it wasn’t very hard. Of course, I had a couple minor hiccups here and there, as with any class, but overall, it was quite easy. When I took my placement test, most of the material seemed unfamiliar (maybe that was just because of the nature of the test), but when I took the class first semester of freshman year, I quickly realized that it was material I’d learned at the end of 8th grade. I believe that there should be a change to this system. I for one have come up with an idea: incoming students should sit in on math classes and partake in discussions and material. The teachers will take note of how quickly the students pick up on the material, and decisions will be made from there. I feel that this will encourage academic curiosity and a desire to learn because I feel that it will create a drive for incoming students to show how much they can learn in a period of time. In my Algebra 1 class, I was engaged in material that I understood very easily, and I didn’t gain academic curiosity through that course. Perhaps if they offered an Honors Algebra 1 course, it would’ve been more engaging for me. For these reasons, I feel like I was stuck in a class that I didn’t want to take, one that did not benefit me in any ways. For many students, placement tests can be especially difficult, as, surprisingly enough, sitting in front of a paper for an extended period of time may not be very exciting for students. Instead, this discussion-based approach would allow students to demonstrate their knowledge in a more natural, less stressful environment. Discussion based assessments, however, would raise the issue of whether or not the student really knows all of the material in the course. Perhaps that student being assessed had only learned enough to allow them to pass the discussion assessment, or maybe the student had forgotten the lesson being taught on the day of their assessment. In either case, a discussion based assessment in and of itself would not give a broad enough picture into a student’s academic prowess to determine a placement. The placement system can be, at times, challenging to protest. To remedy this, there must be some happy medium between testing and discussion. Latin students could possibly “shop” classes like college students at the beginning of the semester. This would entail taking certain desired courses, and by the end of a specified period of time, if either the student or the teacher feels that class is not a proper fit for that student, the student could enroll in a different course. Another point of emphasis would be for teachers and deans to encourage conversations about placement rather than shutting students down immediately based on prerequisite courses. Latin is full of talented, motivated individuals, many of whom would not enjoy themselves, if they are misplaced. If a student can demonstrate satisfactory understanding of the prerequisites to a course, whether that be through testing or discussion or some combination of both, that student should be able to take the higher level course they so desire to take, even if they have not officially taken requirements for that course. If Latin allows its students to place out of classes that are not intellectually stimulating to those students, the school will not only see an increase in classroom engagement, but also an improvement in student motivation because students will be in classes that they, not teachers, want to take.]]>