LHS Moves to “Unlevel” English Classes: Good or Bad?

Sejal Mammai and Maya Bhandarkar

While current sophomores and juniors are split up into College Prep (CP) and Honors English classes after freshman year, teachers at Lexington High School have developed a proposal that may change this system: the Honors-For-All initiative. Honors-For-All, or unleveling, is the process of keeping all students in the same class level regardless of needs, strengths, or background. The Honors-For-All initiative should be implemented as it promotes inclusive practices and positive mental health within the LHS community.

Melissa Soule, Sophie Blum, and Joshua Olivier-Mason, LHS English teachers and members of the Honors-For-All committee, helped roll out the initiative that was originally pioneered by the LHS English Department in 2019. Along with a volunteer group of students and administrators, the Honors-For-All committee includes four other English teachers—Abigail Chaffer, Carrie Conlon, Jane Day, and Taylor Liljegren. Dr. Hackett and Principal Stephens also expressed their support for the initiative this year. 

“[The initiative is] a better representation of what we are actually doing in English classrooms at LHS,” Chaffer, an honors English teacher, said. “It shows us that more diversity in thought and ability and the way that people go about their work is actually really beneficial in classrooms.”

The difference between honors classes and CP1 classes has been unclear to many students recently.

“I chose to take CP1 instead of honors English because I felt that the honors class would be too difficult for me since CP1 has already been challenging me,”  Laila Layous, a sophomore and CP1 English student, said.

Prior to the pandemic, Honors students would read higher-level texts, write more papers, and cover more content than a CP English class. However, Honors courses have become less intensive over the past decade, especially since the pandemic. Consequently, classes have become more flexible, and the number of students in Honors has increased significantly. 

As teachers have redefined what a ‘successful’ student looks like, the selection process for Honors English has changed. Before, teachers used a grade-based system but now view students more holistically, taking into account the students’ engagement level and enthusiasm.

At a typical high school, honors-level English classes are restricted to 25 percent of the whole class; at LHS, over 60 percent of the junior class is placed in Honors American Literature. Honors-for-All is a reasonable next step in an already inclusive department. 

Alexia D’Souza, a sophomore and honors English student, doesn’t feel that there is a difference between the workload in CP and Honors. However, she did note that students in the Honors courses seemed more engaged in the course material and class discussions, creating a positive classroom atmosphere. 

“It’s really exciting to be able to walk into a classroom knowing that you are surrounded by people who are as passionate as you about something,” D’Souza said. 

Many students at LHS choose to take English at the honors level due to the school’s competitive environment. Students are under pressure to take more Honors and Advanced Placement courses to demonstrate academic rigor in college applications. 

However, some students at the honors level decide to take the accelerated course to improve their writing skills.

“I felt like I needed to elevate the quality of my writing and learning alike. I thought an accelerated course would help me push myself and rekindle the love of reading I had lost to other academic distractions,” D’Souza said. 

Unleveling English classes would allow students of disadvantaged backgrounds to gain more experience in higher-level classes, while promoting a positive learning environment at LHS. 

“[Leveling] resegregates diverse communities. Not only is tracking detrimental to students, but it’s also not in line with the core values of the district, if indeed we value diversity, curiosity, and learning from folks who are different from us,” Blum said. 

The Honors-For-All initiative aims to promote inclusivity and prioritize students’ mental health within LHS’s competitive academic environment.