Parents question middle school ‘honors’ program
July 10, 2009
By Laura Geggel
In elementary school, Valley students can qualify for the highly capable program. In high school, they can take Advanced Placement or honors classes. But what options are open for excelling middle school students?
At a June 25 school board meeting, several parents voiced those concerns about a lack of honors programs at the middle-school level.
“I guess that my hope as a parent is that the kids can continue to be challenged,” said Fall City parent Maggie Grate.
North Bend parent Anne Stedman said she has talked to students who said they were bored and parents who said they were frustrated with the middle-school system.
“One teacher will teach to multiple academic levels,” she said, saying that the Hi-C system of pulling out elementary students into a gifted program would better fit higher-level students.
During a later interview, Twin Falls Middle School Principal Ruth Moen explained how middle-school classes are designed to fit students of all academic ranks. The middle schools do not have the funding to create separate honors classes, she said. Simply put, students who perform better earn higher grades. At the beginning of each year, teachers describe the qualities of an A-student, elucidating what sort of work they expect from a thorough child.
At Twin Falls, teachers ask students to adhere to the three R’s: relationship, relevance and rigor.
“We don’t set it at standard, we set it above standard,” said Moen, referring to the rigor component.
Middle school is a period in which children grow both academically and emotionally, Moen said. Students who did not regard themselves as particularly smart in elementary school may begin to realize they enjoy school and start to work harder.
Instead of having a separate honors program, all students are put together and given the opportunity to strive harder. Based on WASL scores and in-district assessments, teachers know the level of each student they teach, and they push them accordingly.
“It’s a turning point,” Moen said. “They get motivated by each other. If you want that A, it doesn’t mean you just do standard. Ultimately, you want them to choose honors.”
As a pilot program this fall, Twin Falls plans to have an extra period for sixth and eighth graders. At the sixth-grade level, students will take the Raven Review class. The review will allow them time to catch up on work and evaluate what they are learning in each class.
Seventh-graders will examine the larger picture within their classes, Moen said.
Eighth-graders will have a critical thinking class, which will require them to focus on which studying strategies fit their learning style. Students will review what they have learned that day and will set goals for how they would like to perform in each class.
If a child does not feel challenged, Moen said teachers would step in and provide them with extension work. Sometimes, teachers will break their classes into smaller groups, matching students with others of their caliber.
Twin Falls reading teacher Patricia Imm sat with Karen Deichman July 6 as the two planned their curriculum for the following year. When they give assignments, they show students example work from high-, middle- and low-level students.
“We’re giving these kiddos four different levels where they might fall,” Deichman said, listing off the stages of expert, practitioner, apprentice or novice. “There is no wondering why did I get the grade I got.”
Reach reporter Laura Geggel at 392-6434 .221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.