The Coast News Group

Honors program approved

RANCHO SANTA FE — The Rancho Santa Fe School Board approved a pilot program that will discontinue the practice of separating students into honors and nonhonors classes at the middle school level.
“Given the high level of achievement of the majority of RSF students, staff believes that all ELA (English Language Arts) and grade-level math courses should be taught at a level equivalent of an honors course at many other schools,” Assistant Superintendent Cindy Schaub told the board at its July 1 meeting.
She said that research shows that exposing all students to the high level of rigor, opportunities and interaction with their higher performing peers, will give the students exposure to new ideas and opportunities to rise to a higher level scholastically and personally.
“When more than 85 percent of our students score proficient or advanced on the California Standardized Test (CST), honors classes may not be necessary,” Superintendent Lindy Delaney said. “Our goal is to differentiate instruction in each class so we meet at their specific performance level.”
The idea is to raise the learning bar for everyone and help push lower performing students to new heights with a higher level of conversation and the work ethic of their peers, Delaney said.
“In this scenario nothing would change for current honors students, in that all classes would be taught at the level of our current honors courses,” Schaub said.
In the ELA course, each student will be taught at their independent reading level and the same with math, but the difference is the lower performing students will get intense tutoring.
“In math, we will continue to offer an accelerated, above-grade-level course for students who meet all of the criteria,” Schaub said. “This course of study is very rigorous and only suitable for a small percentage of students. We use several assessment measures to determine eligibility for these courses.”
She said all the other students will be enrolled in a rigorous grade level course of study that ensures they are well prepared for high school and will be on track to meet all the requirements for entrance into college.
“We will also continue to offer a math support class for those students needing support and intervention to ensure success,” she said.
Schaub said the district teachers agree that the new project should be win/win for everyone in that students who currently do not have the honors status do not push themselves and work to their potential and the new program will further the opportunity for leadership for those “honor students.”
“Also, lower performing students can have unique and creative ways of approaching a topic than a typical honors students might not,” she said.
Currently, because of the small size of the school, students who are placed in one honors course, tend to stay with the same group for the rest of the day, in a way segregating them from the rest of the students, Delaney said.
Board member Jim Depolo asked how it would work if all the students in one class are reading different books at their own level, and wondered how a student could have a meaningful and intellectual conversation with their peers.
Schaub explained that many of the conversations would be the result of shared text read aloud.
Depolo said great care should be taken that the accelerated students don’t end up teaching the slower children.
“By raising the expectations in all classes and better supporting the students who are not yet proficient, we have raise the bar for all students, not just a select few,” Schaub said.
In other school board news, Delaney announced that in addition to her current responsibilities, she would also take over duties at middle school principal as a money-saving tactic.
“I like middle school and I am looking forward to the opportunity,” Delaney said.
Due to deep budget cuts by the state, expenses and staff had to be reduced for the upcoming school year.
Depolo too liked the idea: “It’s a good fix and it will help with our budget as well.”
Tim Ireland, project manager of the construction of the Rowe facilities, said that finishing the new school is on schedule.