New Prereqs Set for Entry Into Advanced Courses at MHS
by Joan R. Simon
(January 6, 2004) Getting into an advanced placement or honors course at Mamaroneck High School next year should be less “mysterious” and more predictable, according to Principal Mark Offinger, who outlined major revisions to the policies and procedures at a school board study session on January 4. All departments will follow the same general process, though there will be some criteria specific to particular disciplines or courses. It is not yet known whether the new rules will lead to an “opening of the gates” so more students have the option of trying an advanced course, but that is of interest to the board.
In general, to enter these upper level courses, a student will need
an average grade of 92 in the subject area and must earn an average
grade of 85 to stay in the advanced sequence for the next year. An appeals
process for students who have not met the entry grade requirement will
depend on the particular course involved and could require a placement
test or the submission of a portfolio of work. A final appeal, if necessary,
would go to Dr. Orfinger.
Superintendent Sherry King praised the high school, saying, “To come to this degree of clarity is huge. Mark is not exactly being cheered by all the teachers.” (Dr. Orfinger said the better word might be “jeered”.)
“Every single department was affected by these changes,” explained Dr. Orfinger. “Some may balk because it’s a change,” he added.
“This was the first time we took a long hard look at the process,” Dr. Orfinger remarked. Information was in many different places and not always clearly presented. Every department had its own application process, criteria and requirements, and notification system. Some courses required placement tests. Others used teacher recommendations. Grade point averages varied for both entry to a class and staying in the honors sequence. Dr. Orfinger described the appeals process in many cases as “mysterious.”
While the revisions will bring only small changes to the social studies department, chair Elizabeth Clain noted that the process "is now streamlined into a more coherent picture for the kids - which I do think is good."
The key question from the audience was: does this revision open the gates?
Dr. Orfinger answered, “The gates have been significantly opened.” Board president Celia Felsher called the changes “an important first step. I think these revisions address a set of issues that people were concerned about regarding inconsistencies in what was required and uncertainties as to the appeal process.” She added, “It doesn’t really go to the larger questions of how far and under what circumstances you provide greater access to those programs.”
Preparing More Students for Advanced Work
A portion of the meeting was devoted to how the school can prepare more students to succeed in higher-level courses. “The goal is to equip more people to do advance courses,” said Annie Zimmer, Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. “Students learn best by tackling moderate challenges,” she explained. She supported the “gradual ramping up of expectations,” and “injecting more rigor and more explicit instruction into heterogeneous [i.e., non-advanced] classes.”
Dr. Orfinger talked about improving the “kind of feedback students need to make decisions on taking AP and honor classes” and giving more “exposure in preceding courses that lets kids be successful in honors and AP classes.”
“Basing more of the decision on GPA will put a spotlight on grading practices,” Ms. Zimmer remarked, and this raised the issue of teaching and grading consistency across subject areas. Dr. King noted, “We need to open up a long process,” including looking at the grading system.