Distinctions Give Rise to Discourse
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One of the many things that sets MSMS apart from traditional high schools is its optional system of distinctions which allows students to specialize in biology, chemistry, math or physics during their two years at the school, but some students feel like this system is not fair and needs revision.
The distinction system was first instituted two years ago, with the class of 2016 being the first to receive the status. Distinctions were implemented as an effort to set apart students who had taken the most rigorous courses as both a junior and a senior for a certain subject. “The whole purpose of the distinctions is so that colleges understand our curriculum a little better,” said Mrs. Kelly Brown, MSMS Director for Academic Affairs.
Currently, the qualifications for Distinctions are proposed collectively by the math and science departments. These distinctions were originally proposed by the physics department, where all students are required to take AP Physics I, but when distinctions were applied to biology and chemistry the topic became cloudier.
For chemistry and biology, incoming students are required to take a placement test to be put in the most advanced course as a junior. This placement test requires students to have a general knowledge of the course they are testing to make a high enough score to enter the class.
The problem with the system as it stands, critics say, is that it places students who did not have the opportunity to take chemistry or biology at their old schools at a disadvantage of receiving a distinction in the topics. Although it is technically not required for a student to have taken biology or chemistry before taking AP Biology or AP Chemistry respectively, it makes it exceedingly difficult for those who have not taken the classes to score high enough on the placement tests to get into the more advanced classes.
“Basically you can be virtually on par with other students, but not get the distinction because of one class” said Tristan Daily, an MSMS senior who has taken every chemistry class and elective aside from physical chemistry, but is not considered for the distinction due to his not taking AP Chemistry his junior year.
Regarding the qualifications of gaining the chemistry distinction, Dr. Lib Morgan stated, “It puts students who come to MSMS from weaker school districts, which are usually poorer school districts, at a disadvantage, so we are certainly discussing ways to equalize the opportunities of our students.”
One of these proposed options would be to introduce a senior class for students who took general chemistry as a junior that would fill them in on all the details that they missed from AP Chemistry, but the issue with this solution is that MSMS does not have enough teachers to introduce any new classes.
One thing that Brown would like to remind students is that a distinction does not make any student better than any other, but for many students this is not the truth of the distinction system. “It feels they are saying that this student with a distinction is better than everybody else on this topic, but that’s just not true,” Daily said.
Students admit that the issues present in the current distinction system are likely a product of the newness of the system in general, but they feel are still issues that need addressing for there to be equal opportunity for all students to achieve distinction in whatever topic they wish to pursue.