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AHS Principal Unveils 'Honors For All,' Beginning This Fall

After a presentation at Annapolis High School, Principal Don Lilley took questions from the crowd.

The principal of unveiled the specifics for his plan to group all freshmen students in honors classes on Wednesday, but many parents remain skeptical.

It’s been called leveling, heterogeneous grouping, and more recently “honors for all,” but it all means the same thing.

Starting this fall, all freshmen students at Annapolis High will be enrolled in honors-level U.S. history and biology classes regardless of their academic levels. That means mixing students who may not have a track record of getting all A’s—or students who have an individualized education program or IEP—alongside the future class valedictorian.

Principal Don Lilley and his faculty laid out their plan for this new initiative at Wednesday’s meeting of the Annapolis Education Commission (AEC), hosted in the school auditorium. Prior to the meeting, the AEC compiled a list of more than 60 questions that were emailed by the community and presented meeting attendees with 16 pages of answers. During the meeting, Lilley took additional questions from the audience, but also offered a glimpse behind the curtain of how the classes will operate effectively.

“We believe that we can raise the achievement of students as a whole, and we can have more vibrant and rigorous [classrooms] for all of our kids. We believe that,” said Regional Assistant Superintendent Chris Truffer.

To overcome the challenge of students learning at different paces, Lilley said classes would be taught with three approaches to each subject of discussion, each dealing with students of varying abilities. The school will also offer support, such as seminar classes that can be taken as electives, for students who are struggling with the new coursework.

But many parents at Wednesday’s meeting were skeptical of the new idea, especially regarding classroom discipline and the impact on high achievers. There remains a looming fear that higher-performing students will suffer from the leveling process.

“My fear is that my child will lose something in this process,” said parent Heather Macintosh. “I think parents are afraid that what we love about Annapolis High School … will get diluted, taken away or somehow compromised by the introduction of a brand new concept.”

Macintosh is one of several parents in the AEC. In September, the group released their study of heterogeneous grouping, which concluded the concept needed further study before being implemented. 

Jeff Macris, chairman of the AEC, stated that more than 95 percent of the feedback that he's received from parents concerning heterogeneous grouping at Annapolis High School has been negative.

Despite their findings, Lilley said in no uncertain terms that honors for all would begin in the fall. However, he has involved the AEC in planning for the change, and even invited a member who has been vocal against the grouping process to speak at the meeting.

“I’m afraid that honors for all will send parents scurrying to check on STEM programs and private schools,” said parent Lisa Pline.

Pline expressed concerns about the honors for all program with everything else the school is trying to accomplish such as a new signature program, full implementation of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme and the county's first .

Near the end of the meeting, one parent who spoke anonymously from the crowd pointed out a potential chink in the armor of Lilley's proposal. Truffer had said the University of Maryland would be providing an independent evaulation of the initiative. But when pressed for specifics, Truffer said that the university had only been contacted recently, and they were still working out the details for what he called a research study.

“We are just underway in communicating with the University of Maryland,” Truffer said. “My understanding is that the research study would focus solely on the ninth grade here at Annapolis.”

The parent said that didn’t sound like an assessment with teeth, but simply a report that could be discarded. He asked if the school had tied itself to a concept that it could choke on if it proved ineffective halfway through the year.

Lilley said tweaks could be made if they saw weaknesses in the plan but the school is committed to doing the program for the full school year.

“We are not here to see things crumble,” Lilley said. “My reputation is on the line. That’s OK. I believe in it.” 

Editor's note: This article has been updated from a previous version to clarify that the Annapolis Education Commission did not conduct a poll of parents.

D. Frank Smith January 12, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Thanks Heather. I wanted to link to them in the story but couldn't find them before I wanted to post it. Good info out there for everyone.
Lisa McLoughlin January 13, 2012 at 01:07 PM
Trophies for everyone! Everyone is exactly the same! Don't bother trying hard or doing extra credit, you will receive no more recognition than the slacker who cheats! Yeah for IB! Socialist indoctrination is now complete! www.truthaboutib.com
kerry Delaney January 13, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Years ago Bates Middle School grouped their students heterogeneously through a Carnegie Grant. It would be very interesting to see the findings of that study.
Mike Manyin January 19, 2012 at 03:56 AM
Annapolis High School has MANY programs (e.g. Homework Haven, AVID, mentors/tutors) aimed at helping the motivated student improve his or her grades. These programs are an excellent means by which to narrow the achievement gap; they help raise the low scores without endangering the high scores. Heterogeneous Grouping is a much more risky approach, since it distributes UN-motivated students into every class, it requires that teachers present material and assign homework on three different comprehension levels (grouping within classes!), and it threatens to water down academic rigor, thus dragging down high scores. Yes, the achievement gap will likely be reduced, but this will occur because the high fliers will fall, or leave the school altogether!
Martin Pinter March 29, 2012 at 03:40 PM
When i went to high school they had several different classes depending on the grades and their effort. I feel its wrong, there has to be a mix, not everyone was born to get the best marks so what

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