Advanced High School Classes | ACADEMIC.EXPERT

Advanced High School Classes

Aside from General Education (Gen Ed) classes, there are a variety of advanced high school classes to choose from — such as Honors (usually a step up from Gen Ed classes), AP (Advanced Placement), IB (International Baccalaureate), Dual Enrollment, and others. These types of classes have generally accepted definitions of what the goals and expectations are for these classes. However, the “devil is in the details.”

The intended curriculum and approach for the different types of advanced high school classes can vary widely amongst public school districts, as well as between schools and even among classes in a given school.

My intent here is NOT to give concrete definitions of advanced high school classes, but to provide data and suggest questions that parents and students MUST be aware of when choosing from among these classifications.

This can be a hotly debated topic in secondary education circles. My observations are based on six years of experience in secondary education, working with hundreds of students.

General Education High School Classes

Many schools only have General Education (Gen Ed) classes for a given subject.

In general, when there are Honors classes and/or other advanced high school classes, Gen Ed classes cover the material generally in a minimalistic fashion (depending on the states and the origin of standards, if they exist). The homework problems are generally easier, grading standards can be the most lenient (your mileage may very) and compared to more rigorous formats, students tend to struggle more and perform less well.

In fact, it is not uncommon for Gen Ed math classes in high school to apply “end of the semester and year”curves of 20 points or more (grade escalation) to ensure that the majority of students pass the class.

Gen Ed classes will often see a much higher degree of test and homework retakes. Very often, semester and end-of-the-year final exams are effectively given to the students ahead of time as part of what is called “a review packet.” Sometimes, the numbers are changed for the final exam, sometimes not. (This is part of a more general trend in public education of grade escalation that I will cover in a later blog.)

When there are behavior problems in a school, it is usually the Gen Ed classes that experience this the most.

Again, this description of Gen Ed classes is based on years of experience in public and private schools. I am certain that there are schools and districts where these experiences are prevalent. It is not my purpose, in this post, to draw conclusions or pass blame.

There is a myriad of contributing causes, some of which are competition among schools for funding, which can inflate grades. Schools are oftentimes unable to fill teaching slots with certified teachers resulting in a “permanent substitute”situation or even using uncertified teachers. Some students entering high school come in 3-4 years behind on basic skills. (These students constitute a substantive percentage of the students that I work with.)

High School Honors Classes

Honors classes are the lowest level of the advanced high school classes.

Most schools offer Honors variants of Gen Ed classes. These will sometimes expand a class curriculum to cover either more material, cover the material at a deeper level, or both.

Most school districts that I have worked in do NOT have separate certifications for Gen Ed vs. Honors classes. Therefore, the same teacher may teach both versions. There is nothing inherently problematic with that, unless the teacher is not prepared or trained to teach the Honors version.

Sometimes, Honors classes grade points are elevated compared to the Gen Ed versions. For example, an ‘A’ in a Gen Ed class would be worth four points, but an ‘A’in the honors variant, might be allocated five points for an ‘A’.

It can be a difficult decision for a family to choose between a Gen Ed class and an Honors class. The pros and cons of both need to be weighed with consideration. Keep in mind, however, that comparing Honors classes between schools can be an exercise fraught with inaccurate conclusions.

Parents and students need to do their homework.

AP High School Classes & Dual Enrollment Classes

I am combining AP and Dual Enrollment classes in my discussion of advanced high school classes as decisions relating to choosing between them are often the source of most discussion and confusion when it comes to class format choices.

AP classes are those classes that are geared towards the student taking the AP exam in a given subject (e.g. Calculus, Physics, American Government, and a wide range of other classes). This process is administered by the College Board, with the AP tests occurring in May.

College credit can be awarded to the student who scores a 4 or a 5 on the standard 5-point grading scale for AP exams. Be aware that different universities may have different criteria.

Dual Enrollment classes are those that, if completed successfully with a passing grade in high school, usually result in college credit awarded for that class. The class is designed to be the same curricula regardless of whether the class is taken in high school or college.

Generally speaking, Dual Enrollment classes operate at the level (roughly speaking) of Honors classes. AP classes, as designed, are much more rigorous than Honors classes or, sometimes, Dual Enrollment classes.

However, keep in mind that there are many variables at play.

I have seen “AP classes” taught as if they were Honors classes, with little attention paid to prepping the students for the AP exam. I have also seen highly qualified teachers teach a Dual Enrollment class with very high expectations of the students.

In general, AP classes are designed to be very rigorous and the students are tested on their ability to develop that rigor. Dual Enrollment classes simply require the students to pass.

I have not seen certification requirements for Dual Enrollment classes to have additional teacher certification. AP class instructors do go through levels of training and additional education to maintain the ability to teach such rigorous classes.

International Baccalaureate Classes

International Baccalaureate or IB classes are most often part of an IB program within the high school environment, which students must apply and be admitted to.

An IB program can be the most challenging option, however, certain AP classes can, and are, just as challenging. For most schools, IB is not even an option. Most times if a student is interested in an IB program, another high school in the district can provide this option.

What is the Best Advanced Class for My Student?

Parents are often left confused as to which of the advanced high school classes is best for their student. The decision is based on what the priority is for the student.

Is mastery of the material the priority or simply getting the university credit? There are variables in this analysis that parents and students need to understand in this analysis as I noted above.

Again, this is not to say that Dual Enrollment classes are not quality classes. By definition, they are college classes.

Parents and teachers must stay informed. Reach out to the instructors. Ask probing questions as to how the AP teachers prep the students for the May exam.

In other words, do your homework.

If you would like personalized input as to which of the advanced high school classes is most optimal for your child, click below and let’s chat.

About the Author:

Joe has 30+ years' experience as a developer, technical lead and manager of large scale defense, avionics and private sector programs. His work with youth includes six years as a private teacher and tutor focusing on STEM material. He is also a published technical author, conference presenter and technical team trainer.

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