What are the opportunities for academically challenging, rigorous course work at your local high schools? How can students take advantage of these opportunities? What do parents and students need to know?
Most high schools offer a variety of honors and AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate) classes. Students should be encouraged to select classes that are appropriately challenging given their chosen course of study, previous grades and test scores, study skills, and commitment to academic learning.
Honors classes are designed for students who have shown a strong level of interest and achievement in a particular area of study. These classes offer deeper, wider, more rigorous extensions to the standard curriculum and assume a high level of motivation and commitment from the students. Success in honors classes requires both academic preparation and a strong work ethic. The registration requirements typically include top grades and test scores in prerequisite classes, teacher recommendations, and demonstrated student motivation.
Parents and students should be welcome to discuss opportunities to take honors classes with the school guidance counselors, but they need to be aware that these classes require a work load and a level of commitment that is inappropriate for many students. A student who struggles with organization, work completion, and academic motivation will have as much difficulty succeeding in an honors class as a student who struggles academically. Success requires both academic preparation and a strong work ethic.
AP classes are intended to be college-level in their content, pace, and rigor. The AP program gives high-achieving students the opportunity to challenge themselves academically and earn college credit during high school. College credit is awarded based on the student’s performance on the AP exam and the policies of the college accepting the credit. As would be expected for a college-level course, the AP classes require independence, responsibility, and self-direction from students. Students who are not able to commit to the level of work required in an AP class will probably not be successful.
The International Baccalaureate emphasizes inquiry learning, international understanding, and community service. The program includes a Primary Years Program (PYP), for grades K-5, a Middle Years Program (MYP), for grades 6-10, and a Diploma Program. The Diploma Program (DP), for grades 11-12, is an academically rigorous program that emphasizes intellectual and international understanding, as well as responsible citizenship and community service. Students can earn the IB diploma by taking international exams. As with AP classes, the IB program requires self-direction and commitment from students. AP is more widely available across the country than IB.
Other opportunities for advanced academic work can include Credit by Demonstrated Mastery, dual-enrollment at local colleges, and online classes.
So what should parents do? First, parents must honestly appraise their student’s interest, motivation, and skill level. Taking honors, AP, and IB classes is a choice, and in making that choice students (not parents) are accepting a challenge and making a commitment to meet that challenge to the best of their ability. This is really important!
Second, students who are taking a rigorous academic program must have the time and energy to focus on academics. Students who are overextended because of sports, community, or work commitments may need to make some choices. Parents can help their students identify and prioritize short-term and long-term goals in order to make the best choices.
Third, parents should encourage their children to extend and challenge themselves in every way possible during high school. Try some honors level classes in ninth and tenth grade to see how it goes. Sit down with the guidance counselor, look at grades and test scores, and talk about motivation and maturity. What is the most rigorous program in which a student can be successful? How can parents structure the environment and expectations at home in order to support their students in accepting an academic challenge?
Finally, it is inappropriate for parents to insist on a rigorous schedule of academically challenging classes, and then complain when their children do not exhibit the responsibility and effort necessary for success. The integrity of advanced classes demands that the teacher consistently challenge the thought processes of high-achieving students. That is what the students have signed up for.
High school is a preparation for college and the world of work. Meeting academic challenges is very important, as is developing self-direction and responsibility. For students with strong academic ability, honors, AP, and IB classes are a great way to enhance the work skills and work ethic necessary for success in college and beyond.