Open Access: blessing or curse?

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Robert Katz, assistant web editor

From Nov. 30 print edition

All students deserve the opportunity to prove their academic potential, but not all students are allowed into the classes that best fit their needs. The Open Access system, Beverly’s solution to the issue of the ill-sorting of students over the past six years, is undoubtedly an effective gateway for students to enter and succeed in higher-level classes.

Yet, the system just as easily allows students to join classes that they are not prepared for, leading pupils into potential failure, as well as diluting classes and CST scores.

Perhaps more ominous is Open Access’s removal of teachers’ control over students, entrusting students with an unbalanced control over their educational paths.

Giving students the choice to take on new challenges and earn greater rewards in their academic careers is hard to turn down. The Open Access system was likely written with good intentions.

Students disinterested in basic core classes have taken advantage of Open Access’s benefits, although their teachers may not be confident in all of their students’ decisions. These cases are rarified only because teachers recognize the majority of capable students. Still, not everyone who is capable of being in an honors class is in an honors class. I recall fellow peers who have taken regular academic classes and later decided to up the ante the following school year, going on to excel even beyond those who had enrolled in previous classes with previous credentials.

With a greater influx of students who did not meet the criteria for enrolling in honors and Advanced Placement courses, it is probable that class curriculum, test averages and CST scores will lessen to meet the needs of a more diverse group of students. Essentially, honors and AP classes may be watered down, provided that a large enough percentage of students enter the classes against teacher recommendation and struggle in the typical curriculum. This possibility is not a vision of doom and decay, just of the worst excesses of the Open Access program if it is not handled with relative discretion.

Interestingly, Open Access raises the question of “what is proper discretion?” In the case of overriding a disagreement between teacher and student, can a student be prepared for a higher-level class when his or her teacher has plainly stated otherwise? This question, which I answer with a hesitant “yes,” throws out a greater question about how much authority a teacher really has over his or her students’ academic fates.

While we often assume that students are the most apt judges of themselves, teachers have been judging students for years and have developed their own intuitions and guidelines as to what they believe are the most viable formulas for students’ success. Naturally, some teachers have more sound perspectives than others, but instructors, receiving salaries to manage the futures of bundles of unique teenagers with varying abilities and prospects, should be given more control over their own dominions. Perhaps compromises should be placed to limit Open Access’s gaping ingress and distill classes to the students that should rightfully be enrolled in them. Students overriding prerequisites or recommendations could be given a trial period in the class. As suggested by Student Board Member Jason Friedman, five weeks would surely allow for enough assessment such that a student’s placement could be properly evaluated. Although a trial period would leave a deluge of work for a student returning to a lower level to make up, that complication, which is lessened due to lower level coursework being covered in advanced classes, is worth saving said pupil from an unfit class and stabilizing class performances.

Complementing standardized tests with department-issued placement exams would also act as an effective stabilizer for students entering advanced classes. While the English department writes placement exams for English overrides, tests for each subject would be very useful and likely worth the time spent devising them, especially if the school hopes to continue raising its API score.

Presently, the Open Access program leaves myriad difficulties and convolutions, its porous nature opening it up to student abuse and jeopardizing the school’s academic integrity. I am absolutely certain that some degree of thought was put into developing the program, which is noble for its intentions to encourage student ambition. With some modification, Open Access could possibly be transformed from a back-door honors entry to a proper gateway to opportunity.

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