Dear Extra Credit:

Many Fairfax County high schools offer the Advanced Placement curriculum. None offer more than 22 or 24 courses, even though the AP curriculum includes almost 40 different offerings. When pressed about this, officials tell me that people have not asked for more. Yet most people are not even aware that there are other possibilities.

At my school there is a willingness to offer courses when enough people express an interest, such as a class-size group. Yet little is done to solicit interest in new courses. No list of possible offerings is provided from which to gauge interest.

Why won't the Fairfax County public schools make this full AP course list available and thereby help students branch out into other academic areas?

Karen Lynch

Franconia

Hayfield High School parent

Bernadette Glaze, specialist for advanced academic programs in the Fairfax County schools, said she has never been asked to provide a list of all AP courses available, but with a few more requests like yours, I suspect she will be happy to do so. She said the best source for finding out about all possible AP courses is this page on the AP Central Web site:

www.apcentral.collegeboard.com/courses/descriptions/1,3061,151-162-0-8879,00.html.

There are 35 courses listed there, from art history to world history, from calculus BC to studio art focused on 3-D design. Glaze said you will find all but one in Fairfax schools, a course not intended for American students: international English language. In addition, some Fairfax schools are offering three new AP courses that aren't even listed on the Web site yet -- Russian, Japanese and Chinese.

This is a remarkably rich program. I am certain no other U.S. school district offers a greater variety of these college-level courses and exams, which can earn college credit. And I would bet no school district offers as many AP courses or is as blessed as Fairfax is to have not only AP but also, at eight of its 24 high schools, the similarly challenging International Baccalaureate program.

But as you say, a student will not find every one of those 34 AP courses at every Fairfax high school. Students are encouraged, Glaze said, to find other students who want to add an AP course and ask the principal and the department head for it. Then, she said, "teachers or administrators present their course proposal before the course review committee, which meets each October. In the past five years, we have added AP environmental science, AP world history, AP geography, and AP computer science A."

Tests Deny Diplomas to Some

Dear Extra Credit:

2004 is the year Virginia's Standards of Learning testing and accountability program was projected to start developing real teeth by requiring prospective high school graduates to pass various standardized tests. Has Fairfax County had a problem with otherwise successful students being denied their diplomas because they could not pass the requisite SOL exams? How about elsewhere around Virginia?

Mitch Luxenberg

Fairfax

W.T. Woodson

High School parent

I was delighted to see this question, because I knew that Washington Post staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman has been covering the issue closely, and I could just turn the whole thing over to her. Here is what she said:

"Across Virginia, parents and educators nervously awaited this year, fearful that thousands of students might be barred from a high school diploma because they did not pass SOL exams. The feared numbers, however, did not materialize. While there were some students across the state in that position, fewer than 100 students in Northern Virginia did not graduate with their peers in June only because they did not pass the six required SOL tests. Of those, 21 were in Fairfax County. That's out of a total senior class of 11,320. Other students, of course, did not pass the classes they needed to graduate. Both groups were offered summer school classes, and some got diplomas by the end of the summer.

"Educators said they kept the numbers down through an intensive effort to identify struggling students and get them extra help with the tests. Virginia policies that allow students to retake tests, sometimes many times, also helped, as did another policy that lets students substitute some alternative tests for tough SOL exams. Advocates remain concerned about the number of students who fail to graduate based on their classroom performance and about those who dropped out before ever reaching senior year. Some test critics have suggested more students are dropping out because they become frustrated by SOL testing. In response, the state Department of Education has contracted with outside researchers to study graduation rates and how SOL testing is or is not affecting them."

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