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Tony Zhang, Carnegie, 2015
Recently, there has been massive opposition to the notion of increasing the number of AP courses offered at Carnegie. However, increasing the number of advanced courses at Carnegie is not necessarily a bad thing. This is because the student ability grouping system is, contrary to many studies performed in the 1980s and 1990s, an effective method of instruction.
Ability grouping is defined as grouping students based on their proficiencies and offering these groups differing levels and paces of instruction that are tailored to their needs. Proponents of this method suggest that the traditional method only teaches at an appropriate pace and content level for students in the middle stratum and underserves both the gifted learners and those who are struggling. In an ability grouping system however, all three groups would receive instruction that is specifically made for their pace of learning and proficiency levels.
Another problem of the ability integrated system is that in such a system, the students who are more proficient in any given subject will make those students who are less proficient feel inadequate. These less-proficient students may then become discouraged and may perform even worse than they did before, thus widening the achievement gap between the less and the more proficient. In the system of ability grouping, these problems are less likely to occur.
The critics allege that in the ability grouping system, teachers use fewer resources on the less proficient students, and thus they will always be behind their more able peers. This assumption is flawed because learning is a primarily self-driven activity. If less proficient students wish to join the tier above them, then they must work harder and cover the more advanced content by themselves before they move on to the more advanced classes. If they have the initiative to do such things, then they have shown themselves to be capable of working hard to achieve the standards they want. These people are the people who will excel and succeed in their studies. One major barrier to this is the American anti-intellectual culture which discourages being both bright and hard working. Due to these problems, the less proficient students will have very little incentive to work hard and advance themselves.
The critics also allege that the lower classes and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in the lower-proficiency levels of the ability-grouping system. Although this may be true, those few hardworking economically disadvantaged and minority students will still be able to rise above their peers and join the group of more proficient students. Thus the ability grouping system still addresses the problem of disproportionate representation in lower proficiency groups better than the traditional system does, as in the traditional system, these less proficient students will be completely left out since instruction is only tailored to the middle of the bell curve.
So what does all this have to do with increasing the number of Advanced Placement classes at Carnegie? Carnegie is the only school in the Houston Independent School District with 100% gifted and talented students. Because of this, it would be appropriate to have the school offer more Advanced Placement and Honors courses in order to ensure that students are still being challenged academically and rewarded for their hard work and perseverance. If we do not push these students harder, we will be doing them a disservice because they will not be at their full potential.
However, if the district increases the number of advanced courses offered, students should not be mandated to take additional advanced courses. The students who can handle it should be given the opportunity to further increase their rigor; students who cannot handle additional rigor should be allowed to take as many advanced courses as they feel is appropriate for them.