It is no overstatement to say that Honors students performed considerably better. The lowest Honors score on each examination exceeded the mean score for regular students. The t statistics show that the differences between the means are statistically significant.
Were one to convert the mean scores into percentages, the percentage point gaps for each examination would be 20.8, 21.6, and 23.2, respectively. The grade point averages in the two courses were different, too. On a 4 point scale in which C = 2.0, the average was 3.67 in the Honors course and 1.91 in the regular course, roughly one and three quarters letter grades higher. As far as outcomes are concerned, the two courses were effectively two different courses. In my opinion, based on my experience in both classes, the writing component had only a slight influence on the students’ performance.
Should political efforts to spike college enrollments “succeed,” the above performance gap will only worsen. In addition, the performance range within the regular student population will also increase.
It isn’t surprising that Honors students perform at a higher level than their regular student counterparts. They’re Honors students precisely because they have higher levels of academic ability and engagement. But what level of polarization is acceptable? Or do administrators even think about that?
No BSU administrator has ever asked me about the performance gap between my two classes. Moreover, none of my colleagues involved in “dual” teaching assignments like mine has ever told me of being asked about the gap for their classes.
A final note: I had the same attendance rule for the two classes. My rule: students can miss class four times with no punitive consequences for their course grade. (That’s two weeks of class!) Each absence beyond the fourth reduced a student’s course grade one letter grade.
Were there differences in attendance between the two classes? You bet. Absences per student over the semester were 0.76 in the Honors class and 2.84 in the regular class. In other words, the absence rate for regular students was almost four times that of Honors students. Forty-six percent of Honors students had perfect attendance; 19 percent of regular students had perfect attendance. If attendance patterns are proxies for student sloth, the sloth quotient increases as college admissions officials ratchet down the ability roster.
I made a point of keeping the courses similar in content and grading standards and doing that showed the wide gulf between BSU’s Honors students and the rest. If the country follows through on the politicians’ idea that still more young people should be in college, the result will be a further widening of the gulf between the students who are prepared for college and those who aren’t. In all likelihood, that will put professors under increasing pressure to dilute course content and inflate grades. That is another topic for research.
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