Rowland High School Honors Program
Description of the Model
Rowland High School (RHS) has had an honors program for most of its history, but coordinated efforts over the last eleven years have allowed for tremendous growth and opportunity for our students to access, and be successful in, a rigorous honors curriculum. Over these years RHS has increased the level of participation within honors level courses to almost half of the student population, which is a 20% increase since. With this continuous growth in participation, as well as shifting demographics in regards to increased socioeconomic need, our student outcomes have remained strong in course grades and testing results.
The concern eleven years ago was with the RHS honors program being very selective with many structural barriers in place, as well as perceptions of student limits that restricted access. Essentially the program of the past was viewed as something for one type of student and could be labeled “elitist.” Another concern that stemmed from this selective process was that many students on the campus were not living into their full potential and did not challenge themselves. This attitude towards limited challenge and drive created a fixed mindset for many students on the campus that diffused into other areas. During our 2007 Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) visitation and within the self study report, further attention was brought to the need to address access concerns within the honors program. An area of concern identified by the staff, and confirmed by the visitation committee, was the need to find ways to increase the number of underrepresented students within the honors program, which resulted in the development of an action plan. This work was focused on underrepresented students, but it expanded to a system-wide approach as there was a need to increase access to honors level courses to provide greater opportunity for rigorous curriculum and instruction for ALL students.
The efforts and goals of the RHS honors program are aligned not only to the WASC self-study and action plans, but also to the School Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) and the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). The Rowland Unified School District (RUSD) has stated goals that support the efforts of the RHS honors program and can be found in Goals 1 and 2:
- Goal 1- Academic Achievement for All Students: Provide a comprehensive, well-rounded and rigorous educational experiences for all students, which is supported by engaging teaching strategies and sustained by high-quality professional development for staff, leading all schools and subgroups to meet or exceed growth targets.
- Goal 2- College and Career Readiness/21st Century Skills: Increase the percentage of graduates who complete A-G and enroll in AP/IB, honors courses; Expand and enhance Career Technical Education and STEM courses and activities throughout the District.
The growth of the RHS honors program has benefited all students and has had a direct effect on school wide achievement. The level of rigor has improved all segments of the campus with higher expectations prevalent in the various curricular options. Also adding to this is the improved perception or growth mindset in relation to belief in student ability by both staff and students, a belief that all students can learn and be successful. Structurally there has been the removal of barriers to increase access to all classes/programs. The data has shown that RHS has had continuous growth over the past eleven years with API of the past and the CA Dashboard of the present.
Currently, RHS offers an honors program with courses at each grade level that build upon one another, reinforcing knowledge and skills that support students in a high level of critical thinking, analytical reading and comprehension, well-structured and supported writing, and speaking skills. Within the master schedule RHS offers 8 honors courses, 20 Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and 17 International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.
Implementation & Monitoring
The opening of access and increased support for the RHS honors program was anchored around the WASC action plan that began with the 2007 visitation. Each year from that point on required a reflection and modification of the action plan with this process validated by WASC visitation teams at two midterm visits and one full self-study process since (with another to happen March 2019). Some of the undertakings within the action plan modified over the years, but the goals within that plan stayed consistent. The action plan touched on four areas that were seen as categories to address: recruitment and placement of students, staff development and curriculum support, support services for students, and parent involvement.
- Recruitment and placement of students first involved the work of opening access to honors level classes. This effort included all honors teachers and involved analyzing the barriers that were in place with prerequisites and “tracking” of students. Through a collaborative process the barriers were reduced or eliminated. An example of this was the modification to the honors mission statement to include, “. . .open to all students who wish to challenge themselves”. The guidance team was then able to work with existing and incoming students on honors enrollment with conversation about challenging themselves and preparing for the future with a more rigorous curriculum. There were also programs that focused on underrepresented groups with the growth of our Achievement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program and the creation of our Social Studies Academy (SSA). The work of these programs became the “Raiders for Higher Success,” which was featured as our distinguished program in our previous awarding of the California Gold Ribbon in 2017. This work also involved collaboration with the feeder schools, continuous input from current teachers, use of data to identify prospective students, presentations on college and career, and motivational meetings with students and parents.
- The curriculum offered at the school needed to be evaluated to see if there was vertical and horizontal alignment within the departments/courses, and once done there was a need to address having additional opportunities for students by way of course development. With course offerings and a system to make adjustments in place, there was work to create courses to support students to be successful in their new setting. RHS went from 35 types and 68 sections of honors, AP and IB courses in 2008 to 45 types and 93 sections in 2018 despite a 14% decline in school wide enrollment during the same span of time. It is important to note that hiring practices focused on candidates with honors level experience and effort was given to recruit and develop from within our staff. Another important development in this area has been the growth of the RHS AVID program from 1 section to 5 sections. To support staff in this transition there was a collaborative effort in curricular decisions and professional development. There was an effort to provide outside professional development opportunities that resulted in all teachers of AP and IB classes with training and opened the door to all others for the same experiences. Another support for departments has been the development and use of our “Late Start” system which provides the time for teachers to collaborate around curriculum and instruction.
- Support for student success in a rigorous curriculum involves various school wide and individual teacher actions. Teachers utilize data both individually and within their department/course to inform the curricular path and instructional goals. Teachers review AP and IB test results with course grades to look for alignment as well. Teachers focus on skill development with their students, which are both broad and content specific – critical thinking, reading comprehension and analysis, perspective, document and data analysis, writing various types of essays, literary analysis, problem solving, and test compatible practice (time and rigor). In addition teachers provided support outside of the classroom setting, especially for AP and IB testing, with their availability at nutrition, lunch, after school and Saturday study sessions. Many also utilize technology through email, posting of resources through their website or Google Classroom, and field trips. Specific courses were developed such as a summer school writing class, AVID Skills for Success, and summer enrichment (“go ahead”) courses for students to gain access to the honors courses in the upcoming year. The development of resources, print and media, within our library was also part of supporting student success in these courses as most have outside research components.
- The RHS honors teachers moved to a “No D Policy” for honors level courses during this time which was seen as a support. A “D” on the report card was a gray area for RHS with continuance in the honors program and was an issue with students meeting “a to g” requirements for UC/CSU. Summer school or other remediation could take place with an “F”, but not a “D” since the student still earned credit for the course.
- Various approaches were used to involve parents in the growth of our honors program. There were informational meetings specific to program which included a recruitment component such as with IB and AVID. As a school there were educational meetings through Parent Academy, Pueblo, ELAC, PTSA, and SSC, as well as information available through our website and publications. There was promotion of the program at various activities including Back to School Night, “Ready . . . Set . . . Rowland”, RUSD School Tours, and the RUSD Showcase. Individual communication by way of email, meetings, and phone calls also happened with families through the guidance department, administration, and teachers.
It is important to note that budget and master schedule support has been allocated to assist with this effort. Funds have been issued for professional development, collaboration time, resources, field trips, parent meetings, and tutoring.
Results of Model Program
The opening of access to and providing proper supports within the honors program at RHS has been a steady process that continues to build year after year. There is plenty of data to confirm the positive movement of the program which has impacted the entire student population on the campus. Important data points for the RHS honors program include:
- The percentage of students enrolled in the honors program school wide has increased from 28.7% in 2008 to 48.3% in 2018
- Honors level classroom achievement as determined by individual course outcomes have remained strong, and even improved, with the “D/F” rate within honors classes going down from 7% in 2008 and 3.7% with the close of first semester 2018.
- At RHS there has been an increase in the school wide “a to g” rate with 41.5% in 2009 and a steady increase to 52.3% in 2017.
- The AP number of tests taken at RHS has increased from 588 in 2008 to 967 in 2018 despite a 338 student decline in school wide enrollment during the same period. (from 2,458 students in 2008 to 2,120 in 2018)
- The AP school wide pass rate results have for the most part maintained within the rage of 70% to 80% with the last test administration showing a 79.2% overall pass rate and an 80.8% rate of students passing at least one test with a 3 or more.
- The IB school wide pass rate results have continued to be at 94% with fluctuation of 1% up or down.
- RHS school wide testing results have consistently improved. When Academic Performance Index (API) was the primary indicator RHS went from 783 in 2008 to 838 in 2013. RHS has continued with strong results as evidenced by meeting a mark of “Green” on the school wide performance level for each indicator on the California Dashboard (Math, ELA, High School Graduation Rate, Suspension Rate, and College and Career Indicator Rate)
Data is continuously reviewed through administrative team meetings, school leadership meetings consisting of all department chairs and administration, department/common course meetings, and by individual teachers. Data is also presented at parent meetings such as SSC, ELAC, Parent Academy, and Pueblo. Having the honors program as part of our WASC action plan and our IB five year evaluation has guaranteed continuous reflection about the program with modification as needed. It has required the use of data to inform decisions which center on curriculum, professional development, resources, and supports for students. The RHS community believes in and supports the academic program offered at RHS. Parents and students trust that the skills and knowledge needed for success in college and career can be obtained at RHS, and the data supports and validates this belief.