Rigor in classes should be held to higher standard
By the Editorial Board
Throughout the state of Washington, Vashon High School is well-known for its reputation as a competitive school, especially when it comes to getting into college. Our above-average state test scores speak for themselves: Vashon does an excellent job of teaching its students at a high level of education.
But in order to continue to help students get into colleges and prepare themselves for the world beyond, as well as maintain the competitive standard, the school needs to maintain a higher standard of rigor within all classes and give students better opportunities to control the level of difficulty they take on in their classes.
The high school’s teachers are a large part of the reason that our school achieves such high academic benchmarks. In general, teachers are engaged in the school community, have personal connections with students, and make themselves available to students after school or outside of class in order to help them complete make-up work or give extra help.
Still, despite the school’s plethora of dedicated teachers, some classes do not manage to meet high levels of rigor, so students fall behind, not understanding the material outlined in the course.
For instance, in contrast with previous classes, the class of 2020 was never required to read the works of Shakespeare in Freshman English, due to a change in the course content. In this case, the teacher did not stick to the previous year’s curriculum, and the class was not able to reach its full potential as a result.
Inconsistencies such as this lead students to enter college and life beyond high school with no formal knowledge of Shakespeare and pre-modern literature, a topic widely studied across the nation, particularly in higher academia.
In the Editorial Board’s experience, there is often a large disparity between the level of rigor in classes that are presented as being at the same level. These differences are not marked with an official distinction between the courses as the AP or Honors label are. Though the department is changing next year, these differences are especially prevalent within English classes. We as an Editorial Board have found it difficult to predict class rigor when signing up for courses.
When registering for courses, students often do not know who the teacher of each class will be. There is a logical reason for this: teachers often haven’t been assigned to specific classes by the time course registrations are open, and the choice of a teacher shouldn’t hinder whether or not a student takes a particular class.
However, in reality, the teacher has a lot to do with the rigor of each class. Whether it relates to the teacher’s particular grading style, or the level of performance they expect from their students, a specific teacher greatly influences how rigorous the class is. Certain students also relate more to specific teachers’ teaching styles, making the class and its content easier to understand.
While students shouldn’t make class choices based on whether or not they like the teacher personally, they should have the opportunity to know which teacher will teach the class in order to foresee the level of rigor that can be expected from the class. This is crucial in order to let students have the opportunity to manage a healthy amount of difficulty in their courses.
Due to the constant shifting of state standards for education, the information which is required to be taught for each subject, in addition to the way in which the information is relayed, does not stay consistent. In addition, the changing of curricula makes it difficult for each class to develop a curriculum into a well-functioning class.
This causes both teachers and students to be hindered in teaching and learning, respectively; teachers often have to figure out how to relay information from a new curriculum, and students receive lessons that are less rehearsed. This is more difficult than if the curriculum remained the same. Again, these problems aren’t the fault of the teachers, but rather inconsistencies that result from shifting state requirements.
Within the past 10 years, a majority of teachers at the high school have departed, both because of resignations and retirements. This constant turnover of staff limits teacher ability to get a firm grasp of the material, and in turn, hinders student apprehension of the material.
One way to address each of these issues — level of rigor, variant teacher difficulty, and constant change in curricula — is through the purposeful and consistent gathering of student opinion. Though student voice should not entirely dictate the delivery of classroom content material, teachers and administrators can help address some of the issues students experience within classrooms by gathering and enacting ideas drawn from majority opinion.
Furthermore, encouraging student input about the success of individual classes will help the administration gain a broader range of opinions. Generally, the administration only hears from students and their parents when a student believes the class isn’t being taught adequately or the teacher’s grading is unfair. If student opinion were more sought out, the administration would likely get more helpful feedback, identifying aspects of the class that are successful for students and should be continued.
As a school, we pride ourselves on graduating with not only a diploma but with a superior level of knowledge and achievement. It is important that we maintain this standard, and continue to push for academic excellence, through focusing on the improvement of classes and content.
The quest for excellence at our high school should be a predictable choice, not a matter of chance.