Save freshman English honors but make it open enrollment


By The Lowell Staff

Originally published on January 28, 2016

Starting this semester, ninth grade English Honors, which previously served as one of two routes for juniors to take the Advanced Placement (AP) English course, is no longer offered.

The administration decided to eliminate the class because of concerns that enrollment into the honors class, which was partially based on a written test, might inhibit access to AP English for some juniors.

This change means that freshmen will now spend the spring semester in a mixed class with some students who will pursue honors sophomore year, and some who will continue into regular English classes instead.

However, this change may make students less prepared for AP courses.

Ninth grade English Honors should continue to be offered for students who want to challenge themselves. It should, however, be open enrollment rather than require a placement test.

“Without those honors programs, how are students expected to survive an AP class?”

Without English Honors, students who enjoy English and students who prefer other subjects would be put in the same class, which could be detrimental to the growth of both sets of students, since everyone learns at different paces.

English Honors plays a critical role in preparing students for an AP English class, according to ninth grade English Honors teacher Nicole Henares. “The honors program does a lot of frontloading to prepare students for AP, and without those honors programs, how are students expected to survive an AP class?” she said.

Senior AP English student Emma Green believes that the discussion in English Honors better prepared her for AP English than it did in her first semester ninth grade English class, which consisted of a mix of students, some who later entered Honors and some who stayed in regular classes. “I felt the elevated level of class discussions in Honors English classes prepared me for the argumentation skills needed in AP,” she said.

Eliminating English Honors is also unfair for students who want to take English Honors for the challenge. “I think it’s a complete and utter disservice for students who want to study literature at a higher level and want to be challenged a bit more than regular classes,” Henares said.

One reason why junior AP English student James Sutton decided to take English Honors is because honors offers more difficult texts than regular classes. As a student interested in English, Sutton also felt that English Honors was more than just an AP preparation class — it was a way to challenge himself. “I just wanted to push myself as hard as I could in English, read the best books available,” he said. “I wanted to learn the most and expand my mind.”

“I just wanted to push myself as hard as I could in English, read the best books available.”

Therefore honors is valuable. However, in order to expand this opportunity to everyone who wishes to have it, the class should be an open enrollment course.

Previously, English Honors required a written test in the form of a short essay response to literature for admission into the class. Freshmen who came to Lowell with less developed skills in English thereby lost their chance to enroll in honors, even if they had the motivation and potential to improve. This especially affected the 43 percent of Lowell students who come from low-income backgrounds and qualify for free and reduced lunch because they were less likely to have access to resources that would prepare them for high level English classes, such as fee-based tutoring or classes.

Making ninth grade English Honors an open enrollment course would allow all students who want to take the class, regardless of background, to enroll without risking their AP English preparation.

Open enrollment has proven successful in increasing access to AP English classes through 71H, a transition class for sophomores who did not take freshman English Honors. Five years ago, the English department eliminated requirements of a teacher recommendation and a minimum B grade in first semester tenth grade English and instead made 71H an open enrollment class. Since then, enrollment in the class has doubled, increasing the number of 71H sections offered from two to four.

English Honors prepares students for AP English while providing students with an opportunity to challenge themselves, and making the course an open-enrollment class will allow all students to reach their highest potentials in English.