Be prepared

Starting next year, all Houston sixth graders will take more demanding English classes that will put them on track to take Advanced Placement English in 12th grade. Students will be exempted only by parental request.

I think this is a great idea. Instead of dumping unprepared students in advanced classes, Houston is giving students time to raise their performance. If students start in sixth grade, they have a chance to be ready for advanced English down the road. Many won’t make it, but they’ll be farther along than if they’d taken easier classes.

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  1. 6th grade is often a big transition year for kids, too. That’s when many of them decide to be poor students and begin failing classes. Raising expectations may discourage some of that behavior.

  2. Steve LaBonne says:

    I’m worried that they all _will_ make it, at the expense of any semblance of standards in the AP English course. Maybe Houston will be one of the few districts to resist that trend, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

  3. Greg Williams says:

    If a student isn’t able to pass the AP English test, they’d still have better use (and greater appreciation) of English, the language of laws, money, and power in America. Anything less would be cheating them of a chance to succeed.

  4. Well, I agree with this concept. The US public education system is the only one in the world in which students do worse the longer they attend.

    That being said, the concept of demanding more from students needs to take place earlier. In my district, all of your grades from 8th grade onward are for real (i.e. they can be used towards graduation). If a student wants to slip and slide through the first 7-8 years of their education, they will be in serious trouble by the time they reach high school (IMO).

  5. PJ/Maryland says:

    Steve, one advantage of using the AP test is that it provides some measure of how well the class is being taught. If half of the AP English class fails to get a 3, say, then it will be obvious that the class (or possibly the pre-AP classes in earlier grades) is not being done right.

  6. Steve LaBonne says:

    PJ, talk to a teacher who has tried to teach an AP class full of students who didn’t belong there, but whom the administration insisted on allowing to enroll. There is no way such a class can really be taught as an AP class should be taught. The real losers in your experiment would be the kids who genuinely needed, wanted and were prepared for AP-level instruction. Houston’s plan, to avoid a disaster, will require some real administrative backbone to limit access to the AP class to those who can actually benefit (i.e. the decision needs to be made _before_ the start of the class, not after the AP exam when it’s too late), and as I said, I’m skeptical because there is a national trend in the opposite direction.

  7. I don’t get the whole “AP” thing, anyway. Why not just offer the upper-level class for college credit? As long as the instructor has a master’s, the kids’ grades will reflect their work, and they won’t be denied the college credit just because they score badly on a single assessment (like an AP class).

  8. PJ/Maryland says:


    I didn’t mean that there was nothing to worry about, just that the AP scores would show whether Houston’s system was working. If the first class that goes through the revamped program (eg, next year’s 6th grade class, except the article makes it sound like other grades won’t have advanced English in place for a while) ends up getting lots of 1s and 2s, we’ll know that Houston has a problem.

    I agree this is tough on the kids who could do well on the AP but had to sit through classes with those who can’t. Tho I have to say that I did pretty well on a couple of APs where I took the regular class and the teacher supplemented it with extra reading for the AP students. (This was at a scholarship high school, tho, so the situation was unusual. Also, it was 20+ years ago.)

    Dave, not sure if you’re being facetious. Why would a college accept the high school’s word that the course was good for college credit? The idea behind the AP test is to assess whether that’s true. (And, although we talk about “AP class”, any student can take the AP test. If s/he understands the material thoroughly and had a good teacher, s/he may well score a 3 or higher [which the AP calls “qualified”]).

  9. Back in my day, we had CLEP tests that we could take for college credit. My high school offered no advanced placement or honors classes at all, but I took a bunch of CLEP tests the summer between HS and college and acquired 30 hours of college credit.

  10. CLEP tests are still available, but many universities and colleges do not accept them, or accept only a few specific exams.

  11. PJ- the h.s. teacher sends in a resume (most colleges require a master’s in content area), and they get together on a syllabus (maybe). Sometimes the college requires a minimum g.p.a. or ACT score for admittance, but the student has to apply to the college first.

    The hs teacher is considered an “adjunct” who gets no extra pay, but brings more f.t.e’s to the college, which obviously helps their bottom line because they pay tution.

    I’ve never heard of a hs offering an AP test without first requiring a semester (or year) of seat time.

  12. I may be wrong about this, but I think students around here can take the AP test even if they didn’t attend the class.

    And my point about the CLEP test was that you don’t have to be in an honors class to know a lot of stuff, if you do outside reading and so forth, although it’s surely an advantage for many reasons. Even in my day, it was up to individual schools to decide if they’d give credit for those scores. The advantage to me was that although I still had to take classes in subjects outside my major, I could skip over the freshman introduction classes: botany and zoology instead of general biology, for example.