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Where the Words Matter More

by P.Z. (11)

As dissimilar as the people themselves may seem, teachers and students mostly gripe about the same events and ideas. Some teachers will complain about students not doing their work, while those same students will complain about such immense workloads. Others worry about test averages being too high, while their students rant about how difficult that last question was.


But as colleges release their acceptance lists and the school year comes to a close, one of the main issues plaguing both teachers and students are the classes of the next year. Students worry about which classes to take, how to effectively balance their lives, and whether or not that one AP would push their schedule over the edge. Teachers, however, have to face something far worse; more specifically, the teachers of the variety of honors classes offered at this school.

Having an unhealthy focus on GPA is nothing new. Since this measurement of a student’s academic ability was conceived, students have fretted over how best to increase it, how to make it appear to universities that they’re the best equipped in the realm of academics.


And as of now, there’s only one way to raise GPA: to take weighted classes. This is the origin of the problem. Such an unhealthy focus on GPA drives each student to categorize the options they have available: either it’s a weighted class that’s useful for them, or an unweighted, “sleeping” class that they’ll use to help balance their workload.

Most honors classes get caught in this crossfire of false dichotomies. They’re not AP classes, so taking the class doesn’t present the opportunity for a GPA boost, but they’re not regular either and students can’t use such classes for naps. Classes such as Honors English, Honors World History, etc. gain a reputation for being difficult, which is reasonable; but right by this label of difficulty is a dreaded addition that changes it, from a student knowing their limits to a student avoiding their limits: “It’s a difficult class for no reason.” “There’s no reason to take an honors class.” “You have no reason to go for honors.”

This year, the number of sections of sophomore Honors English continues to dwindle. What was three sections this year will become two next year. What will be two next year may become one the year after. As students shy away from honors classes, the classes themselves disappear due to low demand. This spells trouble for the entire school.

Colleges determine a student’s academic worth not just by the GPA and by SAT/ACT scores but also by the level of the classes taken. A student with an unweighted 4.0 that took very few difficult classes will be easily noticed and avoided simply because they’re avoiding challenge. Colleges don’t like to see kids playing it safe; they look for hard work and a willingness to take risks. If a student chooses to avoid all honors classes simply because they add no quantitative value to their worth as a student, colleges will notice and avoid that student.

But not only are honors classes important for the students, they’re also important for the school as a whole. Schools throughout the USA are ranked based on the number of difficult classes offered. As fewer students choose difficult classes, the sections offered disappear, and the rank drops. Colleges factor in this rank when determining a student’s academic worth: obviously, a student from a high-ranking school would have excelled amongst far greater competition than a student from a lower-ranking one. By avoiding honors classes, students are not only making things tough for themselves but also screwing over the grades above them, who are trying to get into colleges but are unable to because the school’s rank drops to unforeseen numbers.

In a quantitative world where everything appears to be determined by numbers, it’s easy to completely ignore the necessity of taking the middle road. Obviously, going the AP route for every class will prove extremely difficult; on the other hand, taking only regular classes is academic suicide. However, the emphasis on numbers is mostly created by students aspiring to facilitate a quick comparison of their own worth to others. For the most part, colleges pay attention to the classes themselves, and develop their decisions significantly around the classes chosen instead of the numbers achieved. At least here, the words matter more.

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