Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

Central Times

Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

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Naperville Central High School's award-winning newspaper.

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Editorial: Acceleration Act will be good for students, if managed properly

AP+Human+Geography+teacher+Randy+Smith+teaches+his+sixth+period+class+on+Oct.+16.+AP+Human+Geography+is+one+of+several+courses+impacted+by+the+Acceleration+Act%2C+which+encourages+more+students+to+take+Honors+and+AP+courses.
Ambrose Keller
AP Human Geography teacher Randy Smith teaches his sixth period class on Oct. 16. AP Human Geography is one of several courses impacted by the Acceleration Act, which encourages more students to take Honors and AP courses.

In Central’s pilot program this year, AP Human Geography and AP World History doubled in enrollment, from 44 and 26 students to 119 and 56, respectively. Next year, when the Acceleration Act is in full effect, Honors English 1 will increase from 10 to 13 sections.

Under the Acceleration Act—passed in 2021 by the Illinois General Assembly—students who would normally be recommended by their teachers to take the lower level class option are now automatically enrolled in honors and AP alternatives with the option to opt-out, so long as they meet state standards in that subject.

The Acceleration Act allows for newfound academic mobility seldom utilized by Naperville Central’s incoming freshman class, providing unique opportunities for more students to experience advanced classes. These opportunities are great, but they won’t be without difficulty.

AP Human Geography and AP World History have experienced great success with their increased enrollments, with neither course experiencing substantial increases in failing grades. (Data on AP exam scores have yet to be seen, although we encourage the district to monitor these numbers as they become available.) Instead, students have engaged in far more in SOAR Support periods. Similarly, AP review sessions for both classes are offered for additional enrichment and learning.

But those supports don’t necessarily exist when incoming freshmen are launched into Honors English 1, AP Human Geography and Algebra 1 with Geometry all at the same time. There are only so many SOAR Support periods available, and AP review sessions don’t exist in A1G or HE1.

The benefits of taking advanced classes—a higher GPA, access to college credit, the development of time management skills and enhanced learning—are only ever possible if students understand class material. And oftentimes, that understanding is only made possible through additional supports (especially among students who might not have been recommended to take the class by their teachers).

Social studies has for years offered a summer workshop to acclimate students to the environment of high school classes. This year, those workshops will also be offered for foreign language classes and Honors English. We commend District 203 for their work to expand these offerings and supports, and urge them to encourage student attendance however possible. If the workshops are only advertised to students who weren’t members of the district’s PI program, their impacts (while targeted) will remain limited. If attendance is low, its benefits are minimized.

As the name suggests, SOAR Support has been offered as an opportunity for guidance, studying, reteaching and additional support. But many students continue to use these periods as study halls, going to the cafeteria, auditorium or any number of other study spaces available while rooms with teacher instruction are often left dormant.

For years prior to SOAR’s implementation, morning support was the go-to option for students looking to get reteaching, conduct their reassessments and study ahead of tests. However, this additional support is only offered in math (excluding Algebra), Spanish, and select science classes. No morning support is currently offered in English, AP Human Geography, AP World History or Algebra 1, the classes facing increased freshman enrollment after the implementation of the Accelerated Placement Act and those with the most demand for such support. And even in classes and subjects that do offer morning support, participation has dwindled since SOAR.

Thus, support must not merely be offered, but encouraged and even emphasized.

The benefits of the Accelerated Placement Act—and there are many—rely heavily on its implementation. If supports are offered and encouraged, students will be able to jumpstart their high school career with advanced classes that will benefit them in the long-term. If they aren’t, we run the risk of students failing classes, grade inflation or a slower pace of teaching that could harm high-achieving students while setting everyone up for failure when they graduate to the next grade level.

The Accelerated Placement Act is here to stay, and a plethora of benefits alongside it. In order to get the most out of this legislation, we must act to provide the support to these students who are new to this level of rigor that has already helped so many.

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