High school honors courses?

High school honors courses?

Postby cathie » Tue Mar 13, 2012 1:26 pm

Can anyone fill me in about honors courses at high school? Next year (7th) is the first that courses are leveled at the middle school, and they keep talking about the path to honors courses at the high school. But I'm not really clear on what they are.

Is the goal to do all honors courses if you want to go to college? Or do you just do them in a few subjects? Is it seen as bad if you can't get into honors classes? DD really wants to do the standard level math course next year (Algebra as opposed to the higher level Advanced Algebra or the lower level Pre-Algebra). I'm finding it a bit hard to deal with the idea that she won't be in the best group (I was always the type of student who wanted to be in the top courses!) but seeing as she doesn't like math very much I guess it might make sense for her. OTOH, I wouldn't want to make a decision now that has big consequences for her long term chances in terms of courses she can take at the high school and then college.

We have parent conferences tomorrow so I'll have 4 minutes (!) to discuss it with her math teacher. Interested to hear thoughts from those who have BTDT.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby wanda » Tue Mar 13, 2012 1:47 pm

If she is not struggling, take honors classes. The grades are weighted which will increase her overall GPA and (generally!!) the caliber of kids in the classes is much better. In middle school here, it was sometimes difficult to gain entrance to honors classes unless you had been tested and identified as gifted in elementary school. This was not a problem with Brian, but I refused to test Courtney (did not like the gifted program where we are). Luckily, the year Courtney went to middle school they eliminated the middle school classes that were exclusively for gifted kids and combined them with the honors classes. Honors were open provided your grades were good and parents signed off on the request.

Also, some of the credits received for honors classes will possibly count as highschool credit. In particular, 8th grade Algebra and Spanish counted for both my kids. So far as difficulty goes, I didn't feel the classwork was that much more intense than the regular classes and whatever increase there was was worth it.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby erin » Tue Mar 13, 2012 1:59 pm

Well I don't know that I agree with pushing all these honors classes at such a young age. call me crazy but I like the idea of kids just being kids. I have let Vincent so far pretty much pick the classes he wants to do. So far, so good. He could have done AP/honors english but didn't, and now he is in regular english, LOVES his teacher, she is trying to get some of his poetry published and he actually likes going vs. the kids in the AP class who do nothing but read and take tests. He has been able to connect with the subject and really is enjoying it. I am SO glad we didn't push AP. Also, he never would have been able to do as much extra curricular stuff had he taken all the higher end classes that the counselors wanted him to. Frankly, a major university right out of highschool isn't in our budget anyway so knowing he will go to a community college first for two years has taken so much pressure off him that he is learning and is enjoying it. He is even taking physics next year and he doesn't HAVE to. He is done with the science requirements to graduate after this year. He is also taking stats even though he doesn't have to take another math class to graduate. He is doing it because he is enjoying it and no pressure. Anyway, thats just my take on it. I was also told by a few of the college counselors that a solid GPA and a ton of extra curricular stuff looks just as good as all advanced classes but not a variety in their education. Of course, these were state college counslors and not high end schools, but frankly, I am happy with my kids doing that instead.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby wanda » Tue Mar 13, 2012 2:35 pm

erin wrote: He could have done AP/honors english but didn't, and now he is in regular english, LOVES his teacher, she is trying to get some of his poetry published and he actually likes going vs. the kids in the AP class who do nothing but read and take tests. He has been able to connect with the subject and really is enjoying it. I am SO glad we didn't push AP.

AP courses are a totally different animal!
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby Linda » Tue Mar 13, 2012 2:49 pm

I think it depends on the school and the student. I was in honours classes in Jr and Sr High but 'didn't work to my potential' and the English dept kicked me out of honours after 10th grade (although my 11th and 12th grade English teachers still held me to honours standards in their classes).

Simon took honours classes in Jr High and a combination of honours and AP in high school - by choice. I will say that in 8th grade he wasn't in the advanced Algebra class (for high school credit) that he was more than capable of being in because he made poor homework choices (didn't turn in) in 7th grade and wasn't recommended solely due to that. He very much regretted that and ended up taking 2 maths classes as a 10th grader to 'catch up' to his peers who had been in it. But his plan was to take AP Calculus as a senior and that was the only way to do so. I will say that the school very much discouraged him from taking 2 maths simultaneously and only allowed one of them to be an honours course (the other was standard).

As far as getting into college - I don't think it mattered much for Simon one way or the other because of the path he's chosen. He's just finishing up community college (where his high school grades weren't a factor - graduation=admittance) and going on to the next 2 years, his college transcript will play a bigger role in admission decisions. He did end up with scholarship money due to GPA but the AP/honours courses are weighed heavier to balance out their toughness so I think that made it a wash.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby erin » Tue Mar 13, 2012 3:27 pm

wanda wrote:
erin wrote: He could have done AP/honors english but didn't, and now he is in regular english, LOVES his teacher, she is trying to get some of his poetry published and he actually likes going vs. the kids in the AP class who do nothing but read and take tests. He has been able to connect with the subject and really is enjoying it. I am SO glad we didn't push AP.

AP courses are a totally different animal!


And that is where it gets really technical because here it isn't. Those are the only weighted classes they are called ap/honors and then there is regular which they give the fancy name college prep to, but it is a regular class. I wish everything was a lot more consistent across the country. Even in our state its different. Silly little tiny town. ;)
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby cathie » Tue Mar 13, 2012 4:18 pm

I still don't really understand what an honors class is...are they a step up from the regular classes? And then AP is the highest level? Or does that vary by school? There are no honors classes at middle school the highest level ones are called advanced.

At my high school, we had general, advanced, and enriched. General courses did not count towards college (for kids who were struggling), advanced were the regular courses, and enriched were the ones you were selected to be in so you could do special projects -- but they didn't count more or have more homework or anything. Then again, in Canada the college admissions process is very laid back...

Another thing I was wondering, what about grades? Is it better to take the standard class and do well than the advanced and do worse? Or do they adjust for that?
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby wanda » Tue Mar 13, 2012 7:16 pm

cathie wrote:I still don't really understand what an honors class is...are they a step up from the regular classes? And then AP is the highest level? Or does that vary by school? There are no honors classes at middle school the highest level ones are called advanced.


AP is "advanced placement". It is a college level course, but not truly college credit unless you pass with a certain grade the proctored AP exam (totally different from any other test or final) for the class. There are also college credit courses taught at most highschools, but they are normally different than the AP courses. AP is the most difficult level course your child can take and a large percentage do not pass the AP exams with a high enough score to allow for college credit. Many of the kids failing the AP exam will have passed the course with a high grade.

Advanced is probably what we call honors. Honors started out as a level between regular and gifted. It was for high performing kids, good grades, who had not tested out as gifted. With budget cuts, many areas eliminated gifted and combined it with honors. Gifted kids are supposed to be given top priority for acceptance though. Gifted teachers were very unhappy with this change because class enrollment went from 12-15 to 25-30ish.

Private colleges prefer to see advanced and AP courses, wanting to know that you challenged yourself. A slight loss in GPA with a tough course is OK, and many times the weighing will offset the lesser grade. It really is a judgement call, but I have no regrets at my insistence that the kids took AP or honors courses.

Erin's mention of honors being combined with AP is a new one for me. I have to assume her school has a smaller enrollment and couldn't justify a regular, honors and AP - could only justify two classes. I am interested in how they deal with the AP testing requirements if someone is only honors. You're right though, every place is a bit different.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby Nancy » Tue Mar 13, 2012 7:40 pm

Ben does honors - it is a bit more of a challenge, but can't get college credit (not AP). He has actually opted out of AP (as of now) in his graduation plan. I took all AP and missed getting college credit on all by 1 point. So I don't feel really strongly about pushing it. I know at our school - the AP courses carry a killer homework/work load - as well as eat double credits (they last a full year instead of a semester). Ben has chosen to stay Honors but take other courses (like culinary arts) to broaden his base. I like that approach. At least for him.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby Maelyn » Tue Mar 13, 2012 8:57 pm

Cathie,
The term "honors" depends on where you are, your school, and the specific teacher. I was in honors classes all the way through HS. I had honors classes that really challenged me to think above and beyond the regular curriculum but I also had honors classes that were the same stuff as the regular class but just had more HW.

I do think being in the honors classes was good for me because I had to learn how to study. If I'd been in the regular classes I would not have learned that skill because it just would have been too easy for me. But I don't know that all kids need to be in all honors classes. If a kid isn't stellar in math but excells in English for example, I think they should take the honors English class because it will challenge them and not the honors math because the regular math will also challenge them.

I do know that Cam already has 3 HS credits (and will have 4 by the end of the year) because his MS honors classes in math and English count towards HS credit (if not he'd run out of math classes at the HS and wouldn't be able to graduate with the required 4 credits :S )

But credit or not/weighted grade or not... to me it comes down to challenging the kid to do their best and learn life skills. If you have a college bound kid (and trust me I truely understand that not all kids should go to college) then learning how to manage study skills means giving them a more challenging curriculum.

Good luck with the decisions. I think 4 minutes is not enough time to ask questions so I might ask for an extra meeting with the teachers.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby mobetsy » Tue Mar 13, 2012 10:14 pm

In our 2000 student high school, honors courses basically don't exist; it is AP or regular. Enrollment in AP courses is quite limited, and the teachers pretty much have to teach to the test. There also tends, at least here, to be a lot of summer reading and writing for the AP courses, to the extent that it can be tough to do it even for a strong student. The good side of this system with only AP and regular classes is that you have a lot of bright kids in the regular classes, ones who either weren't interested in the AP course or for whom there wasn't room.

With AP courses, note that some colleges will give credit for higher scores (4 or 5) and others don't offer any credit but will allow the student to skip the intro level course. Back in the day 30 years ago, an A in an AP course was worth the same 4.0 as an A in any other course; that has mostly changed now, so if you see someone with a GPA over 4.0, it tells you they have taken AP courses.

Honestly, I think it has all gotten to be too much pressure for little gain; just the fact you are having to worry about this at a 7th grade level is evidence of that to me!
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby Sue » Wed Mar 14, 2012 6:16 am

I think kids should take classes that are challenging, but that also leave them time for extracurriculars and maybe even a job, without causing a great deal of stress. Every school (and sometimes schools within the same school district) does things differently and every kid is different. Like Wanda, we've found that the kids in the AP classes are higher caliber, but that's not going to be true everywhere.

Actually, I don't think it's all bad that they are looking ahead at the beginning of middle school. Some kids start out on a track that today is doable, but by the time the student is a junior and those course loads peak, they are in a very stressful situation with few options for scaling back.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby mobetsy » Wed Mar 14, 2012 8:52 am

Going back to your question about the math class...in our jr high, about 85% of 7th graders are in pre-algebra and the rest in what is called 7th grade math, with one class of 30 students in algebra. To be considered for that one class, you had to have the recommendation of your 6th grade math teacher, an A in 6th grade math, and take a 45 minute placement test (which about 100 of the 450+ entering students apparently take). The comment of the teacher who has that one class--a really great teacher, as Stephen had him in 8th grade--is that a student shouldn't take algebra in 7th grade unless they truly love math...not because the parent wants him or her to. In our system, taking pre-algebra in 7th still keeps you on track to take calculus in grade 11 or 12. And truly, for most kids, what is the advantage of being on a pace any faster than that?

All of which is a long way of saying, if dd wants to do the mid-level math course and it doesn't disqualify her from getting to higher level math, then I wouldn't push her to do the advanced course. She will have enough ammunition for claiming you have ruined her life in the years to come without adding that one to the list!
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby Esther » Wed Mar 14, 2012 9:33 am

I'm just going to jump in about the math courses and track in high school. Because of what has happened with our 3 boys and the somewhat different paths they've taken.

What happens here is in 5th grade (last year of elementary) the students take a math placement test that places them on which "track" they'll be on in middle school. There is actually 4 tracks I believe. And math is the only course in middle school that is tracked, everyone else is grouped together in all other academic subjects. There is the uber high course, which places 6th graders in pre-algebra (which is the standard 8th grade math class) that leads to algebra in 7th grade. Then there is the high math course which you take high math 6th grade, pre-algebra 7th grade, and algebra in 8th grade. Both of those tracks would lead to honors math classes in high school, ultimately ending in AP Calculus in either 11th or 12 grade. Then there is a regular math class which probably 80% of the students fall into, and then remedial math.

OK, oldest son places in the regular track. in 7th grade when he's taking the regular math, he is scoring all high 90's, so we fought the system to get him placed into Algebra in 8th grade. It was a huge pitb and a battle between the math coordinator in the middle school who did not make it easy and felt that nobody could just jump into Algebra without taking pre-algebra. The correct "system" of doing this would be to enroll your child in summer school to take pre-algebra and then take it in 8th grade. OR hire a state approved tutor to teach you pre-algebra. OR wait the first 9 weeks and then move you up to Algebra in 8th grade if you are making higher than a 95%. We bypassed all that and insisted he did Algebra. He did fine in Algebra, a solid B student. But b/c he didn't have straight A's, could not be in honors math track in high school, but still considered to be advanced in math, as one year ahead of the typical student. Matt did fine and took regular calculus his senior year. Did he enjoy math? Not really, and lucky for him he probably won't ever have to take a math class in college being a music education major.

Son 2. End of 5th grade, placed into the high math (not the uber high) and in 6th grade, due to somewhat spotty homework grades, was "demoted" to regular track math in 7th grade, which just like his brother before him, he did extremely well. So what did we do? We did the same thing and insisted he move up to Algebra in 8th grade. I will admit that both Sean and I felt that b/c both of us had done Algebra in 8th grade and both of us were naturally smart in math in secondary school, that our sons should be advanced as well. Ryan ended up with the nightmare algebra teacher (the very same one we fought with to move up with both sons). He struggled the first 9 weeks with C's, but by the end of the year he was a solid B in Algebra and like his brother, moved into regular math track, however still advanced and with students typically one year older in high school. 9th grade geometry, 10th grade Alg II, where he continously made very high A grades so speaking to his teacher end of last year, with her recommendation, we were allowed to bump him up to the honors track once again (which he would have been if he had just not goofed off in 6th grade, lol). Much to his great chagrin and horror this year, he has had quite an adjustment to Honors Trig/PreCalc... I think he did have a C his first 9 weeks but since then has been a solid B. Everyone that we have spoken to at college presentations etc said it is always better to take the harder courses and not make the higher grade, to show that you have the ability to work hard doing harder work than the average student. Plus for us, the honors grades are weighted one half grade point average. AP classes are weighted one full grade point average higher. Anyway, to continue on my long ramble here, the teacher just recently put recommendations on the board for which students she thinks should do AP calculus next year. Ryan has a choice, he can take AP Calc, regular Calc, College in HS Statistics (he would get actual college credit). She recommended he take AP Calc.

Now, on to son #3. Like his oldest brother, recommended for the regular course of math, which will place him in pre-algebra this year (8th grade), algebra in 9th grade and will end up in Trig/Pre calc his senior year. Unless he doubles up math one year in high school, he won't be able to take calculus in high school. I think by the time the 3rd one came around, we were both just tired of fighting the system, lol. Danny typically makes straight A's in the regular math and I'm fine with that. I honestly do not think any of my boys will end engineers, math whizzes, or scientists. So we're going to just let him be.

We do both feel it is very important for the boys to be in the higher honors and AP classes. In our high school, you can't take any AP classes until 10th grade. Matt took AP Government, AP English and AP Euro History. Ryan is taking AP Euro history this year and next year will be on track to take AP Gov't, AP English and AP calculus. It does make the student's high school transcript more attractive to see the honors and AP classes, even if the GPA isn't straight A's.

Good luck!
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby SherrieM. » Wed Mar 14, 2012 10:48 am

In our district in TX, it is like Betsy's. You are either in AP or not. There is no honors or step between regular classes and AP/pre-AP.

Cathy actually has opted to take all AP classes, because she was frustrated with the one non-AP class she had freshman year. The pace was slow and it was filled with students who were coasting.

So my insane child is currently in 5 either AP or pre-AP (essentially English/Math prep classes for the exam that they will take either Jr or Sr. year). She takes her first AP exam in U.S. history in May. She's a sophomore. She's planned an equally insane schedule for her jr. year. She has all As, so we can't really complain. Her workload in AP English is nastier than anything I recall from college. I'm not kidding. The girl knows how to cite APA style better than I do at this point.

That said, even the workload varies by AP teacher. Her English teacher piles it on heavier than the other two English AP teachers (she has friends in those sections). They are reading the same books, but the assignments are not the same.

She is also taking at least one course for dual credit next year. The devil with dual credit is in the details. She'll earn both high school and college credit hours for her work, but how those hours transfer will ultimately be up to the university that she picks as well as the college within the university she enrolls in. There is no straight-up system. A lot depends on the course descriptions; that ultimately determines how admissions officers and academic advisors determine what counts for what.

For example: My friends and I in high school all took AP English as dual-credit in addition to the exam. My friends in business majors got to count the credits we earned as a basic English class at Mizzou. I, in the journalism program, did not get to use those credits as English. The academic advisors did not accept those credits as English comp; I had to use them as elective credits toward my degree. Although that was 20 years ago, the rules still apply. I see it every day with transfer students at work. So be sure to take in the course descriptions and a sample of the work or syllabus when you are talking with college academic advisors to be sure credits count toward what you'd like them to.

Our private school tracks Math and English starting in 6th grade. Cathy is technically a year behind on the AP track for the Calc because our schools in MO did not offer algebra in 7th grade; she tried to test in, but she was missing concepts.

That's a long-winded way to say that you need to investigate not only the work load of honors/AP classes, but how the high school tracks. She may not be able to enroll in AP classes later if she is not in honors now.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby Nancy » Wed Mar 14, 2012 11:51 am

That's a good point Sherrie - about getting into honors/AP in high school. Our middle school has an "Excel" program - an advanced (vs regular) level. Most of the time, you have to be in that level class to be recommended for honors or AP at the high school. I'm sure there are exceptions - but that is the most direct route.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby Maelyn » Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:10 pm

So AP vs IB vs Honors.

Our kids have honors classes at their school until junior year at that point IF they have gotten B or better in the honors classes for certain honors classes they can opt to take AP tests but they are NOT AP prep classes (teach to the test). We don't have IB at the boys school but I know some parents have had experience with this one (SueK?).

Honors just challenges the student and may offer the weighted grades 5pt vs 4pt (although not at our boys school) but does not offer college credit options just prep for college life and study skills

AP prepares the student to take the AP test which may grant them college credit if the college you choose accepts it. Several IF's in that statement.

I think IB offers college credit (again IF the college accepts the program) but I'm not sure on the details whether it's required that you pass a test or just get a certain grade in the class.

I'm not a fan of kids testing out of intro level college classes. I did that and I think it was probably a mistake. I know the $$$ thing is important (I paid for the majority of my own college eduction) but there are so many life changes for kids going away to college, having a class or two that isn't super challenging can be a life saver. JMHO.
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby Sue » Wed Mar 14, 2012 12:32 pm

Maelyn wrote:I'm not a fan of kids testing out of intro level college classes. I did that and I think it was probably a mistake. I know the $$$ thing is important (I paid for the majority of my own college eduction) but there are so many life changes for kids going away to college, having a class or two that isn't super challenging can be a life saver. JMHO.

My two college kids both earned a lot of college credit doing IB or AP (each did one at different high schools.) The bonus for them is not really a money saver - although each had more than a semester, one had nearly a year of credit - rather that it did pass them out of the entry level classes and in to more interesting and challenging classes in their chosen field of study.
Maelyn wrote:So AP vs IB vs Honors.

AP and IB are basically the same in that you take the college level course in high school and take an exam at the end. Colleges give credit for the exams if you have a specific score or higher which indicates proficiency. But every college is different on what they give credit for. You do have to ask each college/university for their guidelines.

You can also earn an IB Diploma, which is six exams in specific areas of study, a cumulative point score on all exams, plus 150 hours of volunteer work, plus a lengthy research paper that is done on your own time (it's not turned in for a class) and is graded along with the IB exams. Oh, and another class on the Theory of Knowledge. DS 19 earned the IB diploma. DD who is at the same school is on track to earn it, but if she does all of the extra work beyond the exams is up to her, we aren't going to insist she do it to earn the Diploma. In my experience the exams are what gets you college credit, no one in the college world cares much if you earned the diploma or not. Sure they may be impressed, but it's not a slam dunk on acceptance at any college. Plus, you don't even know if you're earned the diploma until July after you graduate. You've long since made a college decision by then!
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby cathie » Wed Mar 14, 2012 2:55 pm

Thanks ladies, this is such an unknown step! So much to think about, how on earth can the kids navigate their choices... It seems that our high school has 4 levels of courses, college 1, college 2, honors, and AP. It says they are weighted differently for GPA, so I guess that takes into account that you can get a better grade in a lower-level course, or might take a harder course and get a lower grade. Not entirely sure how it works, it says an A- is worth 4.0 for AP and honors, and 3.5 for college 1 & 2.

I find this all so hard -- the balance between letting them explore and learn about things they might not be so good at vs. maxing out grades so that they can get into a decent college. Overall, the high school has a lot of neat courses we didn't have. But I also would love for it to be a time for the kids to spread their wings a little (with exchanges etc.).

Do the college admissions people know all the different high schools? It amazes me how much variation there is. And it must depend on the student body too -- I imagine it's harder to get into an honors class in a place where all kids are going to college than a more mixed high school like the one I went to. At my high school if you showed up for class and handed stuff in, you were put in higher level classes 8)
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Re: High school honors courses?

Postby Sue » Wed Mar 14, 2012 3:37 pm

cathie wrote:Do the college admissions people know all the different high schools?

In our experience they do. Admissions people have an assigned area and they know how prepared the students are, in general, from each school.
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