English Department Integrates Honors


The current Honors English lesson plans will be replaced by a new curriculum that fits into the normal English class.

Zach Leffel

Throughout the summer, the English department will be busy making changes to the English Honors Program. The Honors Program will change from being a separate, student-selected class requiring teacher recommendation to a pathway where all students will have the option to pursue honors work in addition to the regular classwork. Students will have the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of honors within the English class and will earn honors if they meet the requirements set by the district.

While the new system will be implemented in the coming 2018-19 school year, these changes were first decided at the start of the 2016 school year and researched extensively by a committee of English department staff and administration.

Ms. Kris Cody, one of the leading members of the committee and a teacher in the English department, believes that the previous system had created a two-track system that left out those not opting into the honors class: “The old system (limited honors classes based on teacher recommendation) was a flawed gatekeeping system that set up competitive advantages for a few and disadvantages for many.”

According to Cody, extensive research and discussion were put into deciding on the new standards for earning honors in the class.

In the fall of 2016, the district worked with Maria Velasquez, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to research the impact of integrated versus separated honors. She found that the test scores of students seen as high-achievers would not decline as a result of the de-tracking process.

In addition, committee members researched other schools that had moved to integrated honors. Ms.Cody and Ms. Jennifer Ohly, a teacher in the English Department, reached out to Evanston Township, a public school in Illinois that had de-tracked their honors system. Evanston found that in addition to there being no decrease in high-scoring students scores, there was also a substantial increase in the scores of students without access to the previous honors program.

Changes to the honors program mainly relate to its integration into a single track of English classes but also alter the requirements for earning honors.

“Right now, students only have to be in a room designated as an ‘honors’ classroom,” explained Cody. “In the future, students will have to participate more fully in their learning.” Students will be required to earn a B or above in their class to earn honors and demonstrate growth in the following areas: critical thinking/inquiry, reading, writing, and leadership in speaking and listening.

While integrated honors will begin next year, separate honors classes will still take place for eligible students until the 2019-20 school year as teachers evaluate and refine the honors system.

Although extensive effort has been put into the restructuring of English Department Honors, some apprehension remains about the move to a new program. There is the possibility that parents and students who preferred the familiar two-track system may be resistant to these changes, and there are also questions about how the new system will affect workload for students and teachers.

Also, some are worried that the new system will detract from the learning experience of students seeking more advanced curriculum and instead replace it with more modest project requirements.

However, Cody says that the committee is confident the changes will be an improvement from the previous system. “This isn’t a few added questions on a test or an additional book group in ASR. This is regularly opting for the more challenging texts and tasks. This is taking risks within normal coursework and discussions and reflecting on the processes and outcomes of those risks. We hope that this approach is about mindset, not just finite tasks.”