Port City Notebook

News, views and random observations around Alexandria

Should T.C. Offer Honors History and English?

By Lisa Jacobs, guest blogger

ACPS created an Honors Review Committee which met several times during the fall to discuss honors courses in the middle and high schools.  The committee recommended several changes to the middle school honors class expectations and descriptions in the 2014-2015 Program of Studies, which were incorporated into the proposed 2015-2016 Program of Studies. View the agenda (see #17).

APclassesSeveral other proposals–including the creation of honors options in 11th-grade history, 12th-grade social studies, and 12th grade-English; an additional science honors option; and possibly some changes to the math program–were not incorporated.  Among these, the creation of honors classes for 12th-grade English and 11th- and 12th-grade social studies enjoyed strong support among the parents and teachers on the committee, but the administration has opted not to include them pending further study. There is a very short window of time when these classes can be added to the 2015-2016 Program of Studies before final approval later this month.

The letter below outlines the status quo and the recommended changes. If you would like to add your support for additional honors class options in the high school, email ljacobs256@gmail.com. In addition, please forward this to other interested parents, students, teachers and community members.

Dear Dr. Crawley and members of the ACPS School Board,

As concerned ACPS parents and students, we are writing to ask you to add honors level classes to the 2015-2016 Program of Studies. Specifically, we would like ACPS to offer three additional course options: Honors English: British and World Literature, Grade 12; Honors Virginia and U.S. History, Grade 11; and Honors Virginia and U.S. Government, Grade 12.

Juniors and seniors currently have a wide array of history course options, but they are either standard, Advanced Placement (AP), or Dual Enrollment (DE). Seniors are in the same situation with English–they must choose from standard, AP or DE classes. AP and DE classes offer a very rigorous and highly challenging experience for our students and we appreciate that these options are available. But both of those options require students to perform a level of work that’s equivalent to courses offered in the freshman year of college. The juniors and seniors at T.C. Williams have only two options in history and English–standard or AP/DE. What is missing is a third option in the middle.

With a total enrollment of 3,504 students, T.C. has students at many different levels of preparedness for college-level classes. Some students would like to take a class that is more challenging than a standard class but they are not yet ready for the AP/DE challenge. Some would like to take several AP/DE classes in their strongest subject areas, but not across the board. Students who typically struggle in school, students who have recently learned English, students who have special needs, and students who have trouble in one subject or another might all want to stretch themselves beyond a standard level class but the jump to AP/DE is too far. They need high-quality honors options so that they do not spend their high school years taking standard classes that are too easy for them, or college-level classes that are too difficult.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have placed our highest-achieving students in a chute which leads to them routinely taking three or four or five or more AP/DE classes in both their junior and senior years. Current 10th-graders started a world language in 6th grade so they are on track to take AP level world language as juniors. Many of these students also are taking Pre-Calculus, and Calculus (AP/DE) comes next. Without even opening the Program of Studies, these students are automatically taking two AP/DE classes next year. With no Honors U.S. History option, the student is taking three AP/DE classes before he or she even considers science or English, yet many of our students love science and/or English and want to challenge themselves in those subjects. While we will always have a subset of “high-fliers” who relish the challenge of simultaneously taking many AP/DE courses, four AP/DE courses as part of a course load of seven classes is an overwhelming load for a typical junior. It is more than most college students would carry in one semester. We see examples of stressed-out students all around us. Even the school nurse reports that many students are showing up in her office with stress-related symptoms due in part to their course schedules.

We ask that you add Honors English 12 and Honors History 11 and 12 classes to the 2015-2016 Program of Studies. We then request that you direct our administrators to assure that the new honors classes are of the highest quality, and that our students are given excellent and personalized guidance during the advisory process.

Thank you.

Related links:

AP Courses: How Many Do Colleges Want?

More AP Classes May Not Be Better

Fairfax School Board Expands Honors Choices

Why Not Honors Courses for All?

Lisa Jacobs is a parent of a sophomore at T.C. Williams High School, and served on the Honors Review Committee. She is also a past president of George Mason Elementary School PTA and George Washington Middle School PTA, and past vice-president of the Alexandria PTA Council.


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