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Eliminating honors classes hurts students of all abilities

When students in Fairfax County carefully browsed through the list of next year’s available courses, many noticed fewer classes offered.

Between 2006 and 2008, the Fairfax County Board of Education ended honors courses in English, history and government for upperclassmen in most high schools. Currently, many members of Fairfax BOE want to discontinue these classes in all high schools for the 2012-2013 school year to encourage more students to take AP courses. The BOE will further discuss the issue in July.

The Montgomery County BOE should not follow Fairfax’s lead. The growing movement to eliminate honors classes is partially due to a desire to accelerate students. However, somevstudents wish to work at a quick pace but not necessarily at the college level and without the extra stress of AP exams.

Fairfax BOE chairwoman Kathy Smith, who supports eliminating honors courses, believes that providing three levels of classes allows for more “tracking,” or when kids of different socioeconomic status and race are divided up into different class levels. She supports eliminating honors classes as a way to reduce this effect and integrate the student body.

But a lack of honors classes would not lower the tracking of students, because the students in the on-level classes would still be separated from those in AP. Also, with fewer tracks, it becomes harder for the teachers to accommodate each student’s needs. Having more academic tiers allows for grouping of students of similar academic capabilities, so the curriculum is more applicable to each student.

Fairfax BOE member Sandy Evans, who disagrees with Smith, supports including honors classes to provide more options to students who should not have to choose between two extremes. It is important to allow students enough freedom so that each student can learn at a suitable pace.

Many proponents of eliminating the honors track believe that if students only have the option of on-level or AP, some of these students would give AP a chance and benefit from the high-level coursework. However, eliminating honors classes could force students to drop down to on-level or take a too difficult AP course.  Students doubtful of their ability to handle AP material would likely opt to take an on-level class, but these courses may insufficiently challenge these students. Other students who push themselves to tackle difficult AP classes could set themselves up for increased stress and lower grades.

Despite the recent elimination of honors classes in several school districts like Fairfax, Montgomery County should not follow suit. MCPS should continue to offer honors-level courses in order to provide an important middle ground between on-level and AP classes.

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One thought on “Eliminating honors classes hurts students of all abilities”

  1. Not only do there need to be three levels of classes, but honors classes also need to be taught like the challenging but not extraordinarily difficult classes that they are purported to be. As it stands now, top-level students at Whitman have the choices or either taking a full-AP load and stressing themselves ad infinitum or taking an honors class in what practically amounts to a free period. Honors classes should serve as easier but still worthwhile classes for these students while giving students who are one stratum down the same challenge that the top-level students are getting from AP classes. Limiting students to only the easy or the impossible limits their potential for learning by either overstressing them, undereducating them, or both.

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