Overrides: The Pressure,The Instinct, The Repercussions

Monica Mula ’12
Web Opinions Editor

Each year when March comes along, teachers must carefully consider their students’ work ethic and ability that they have observed up to that point in the year.

With these observations, teachers can decide which courses they will recommend students for.

Students must reflect on this same idea so as to make the most appropriate decisions about course selection for the next year.

Uniquely at Staples, students are granted the final decision of whether they will take B, A, Honors or AP-level classes. This is accomplished via overrides.The Pressured Process Begins with Parents

When making the leap from eighth grade to freshman year, 14–year–old students are given their first opportunity to have final say over their teacher and guidance counselor recommendations.

“The middle schools deal directly with the eighth graders’ overrides,” said guidance counselor Jack Quinlan. “However, Staples guidance counselors do find that freshman have the highest override rate of all grades.”

With habits instilled early on, students are inclined to trust their own instincts about where they will best fit. Parental pressures and encouragement included, it is only expected that students choose to take the challenge.

“Kids who truly want a challenge know they can handle the work load and take classes for the right reasons,” Quinlan said. “Although guidance is aware of the fact that many are pressured into taking APs by outside counselors and parents.”

Quinlan disapproves of this method of course selection, saying that students should never knowingly take a class too difficult for them and plan to be tutored through it.

“Students need to decide if overriding is worth a year of anxiety and breakdowns because of slipping grades,” Quinlan said.

Each year, Quinlan carefully tracks by grade level the progress of each and every student who overrode into his or her current class. His graphs show a total of 114 freshmen enrolling in classes they overrode into, with 32 then dropping down during first semester.

“A main reason for this statistic is that eighth graders do not

fewer projects, and less participation and effort being factored into the grade.”

Trends show that as students move up in grade level, they override significantly less. Quinlan accredits this to kids becoming more familiar with their own learning styles and learning needs.Who Knows You Better?

English teacher Christine Radler feels that students must consider carefully before deciding to override their current teacher’s decision.

“I keep the dialogue open between myself and the students,” said Radler, “and for underclassmen I include the parents as well.”

Radler takes her recommendations seriously, basing it off of the current skill level of the student, as well as the maturity level, work ethic, and capability they have demonstrated.

“I need to be convinced that the student not only has a steady and dedicated work ethic, but also that they posses intellectual curiosity,” Radler said.

Radler, with experience in level-placing at Staples, feels intellectual curiosity is an integral, and often overlooked criteria. She said the students must have “energy and interest in the particular subject.”

Quinlan agrees that conversations about overriding can be handled intelligently and reap educational rewards for the students.

“It is healthy that the conversation between teachers and students exists,” Quinlan said. “In the case of a student considering the override option, guidance counselors will help discuss what goals the particular student is trying to attain.”

For Annie Brag ‘10, her decision to override into a more difficult math class was well thought out and successful. Brag is an example of what Quinlan might describe as a student who carefully plans their choices.

“Every student should have the opportunity to challenge themselves, if they feel able. It is only fair for a student to make the final decision, as they know themselves better than any teacher,” Brag said.

Brag had a smooth transition into the class, and said she would not be getting the same experience otherwise.

The transition is not always effective for everyone, however. Quinlan’s graph shows that the average grade of students who overrode and remained in those classes in the ‘08-’09 year was between a B+ and a C. These numbers reaffirm how students, given such an influential opportunity, must truly evaluate their learning abilities and preferences.The Aftermath: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The controversy surrounding overrides is multifaceted. Guidance counselors scramble to organize class sizes and sections before Arena arrives, while students still grapple with what course levels to choose. The possibility exists that override students will be uncomfortable and drop down the following year, making class sizes difficult to balance and then sustain.

In the 2008-2009 school year, 16.7% of Staples students overrode, many in more than one subject area. About 27% of those who overrode decided to drop a level down after beginning the class this year.

“With AP classes, you need to drop in the first 30 days,” Quinlan said.

Quinlan’s general mantra is “if you’re not in the B-range, you’re not suited for AP,” further elaborating that getting a lower grade will demonstrate on a transcript that the student either didn’t belong in that level, or simply did not try.

“This double negative is a warning sign to colleges and universities,” Quinlan said.

The option to drop acts as a safety net, yet Quinlan advises against trying out an AP class with the intention of dropping already in mind.Final Analysis

Though controversial, Staples students seem to feel fortunate to have such a fair and poignant privilege.

Quinlan similarly feels that Staples should be proud of its fair option not so common at other high schools, but that students must make educated decisions with the ramifications of overriding in mind.