Fairfax schools to offer honors courses online

August 31, 2011

Fairfax County schools will offer several high school honors classes online this fall — a response, officials said, to parents’ complaints about elimination of the face-to-face versions of the courses.

Tenth-grade World Studies II Honors and 11th-grade English Language and Composition Honors will be available via the school system’s online campus, which offers a number of courses in a variety of subjects.

Schools may offer honors courses in classrooms if there is sufficient enrollment, Peter Noonan, assistant superintendent for instructional services, said Wednesday.

Honors courses are more rigorous than those at the standard level, but less demanding than Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses.

Fairfax officials decided several years ago to phase out honors courses in the 175,000-student system for subjects in which AP or IB classes were available. School officials maintained that removing the honors option would encourage more students — especially those from low-income and minority families — to challenge themselves.

A group of parent advocates brought the issue to the fore in recent months, asserting at school board meetings that an honors track is necessary for students who are bored in standard courses but would be overloaded taking multiple college-level classes.

“We listened very carefully to the community, and what the community wanted was a third option,” Noonan said. “We provided that option and really believe it is a win-win for all the kids in Fairfax County.”

The honors courses will use AP curriculum, but students will not be required to take the AP exam in May. Instead, instruction will continue until the end of the school year, giving students an additional month of class time to cover the same material.

Some parent activists criticized the new plan as insufficient, and school board member Patricia S. Reed (Providence) said she plans to push for reconsideration of the issue.

She said she thinks that the board, not administrators, should set the honors policy, with input from parents and teachers.

“To all of a sudden hear about it a week before school starts is no way to run an operation,” she said. “I’m fearful that there will be a lot of confusion as people learn about this and try to make decisions about how to handle it.”

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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