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Plan to cut English class draws critics at School Board meeting

April 09, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

A plan by school officials to eliminate one of two senior honors English courses has drawn criticism, prompting the Washington County Board of Education to hold a special work session Tuesday.

The School Board called the session so members could be filled in on the plan. They had heard concerns that the decision to consolidate two upper level 12th-grade English classes - honors and advanced placement - into one class would limit the options of college-bound seniors.

The decision to eliminate the less rigorous senior English honors classes was made in the hope that more students, after taking the tougher class, would take the English Advanced Placement exam, said Boyd Michael III, the school system's executive director of secondary education.

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The school system's secondary education supervisors met prior to January, when the "High School Program of Studies" is annually published, to determine course offerings for the 2003-04 school year, he said.

In addition to making some minor revisions to the previous year's program, supervisors agreed to consolidate two upper-level English classes, effective in the next school year, he said.

When making the decision, supervisors referred to a school system goal under the 2003 Master Plan to increase the percentage of high school students who score a 3 or higher on the Advanced Placement exam, Michael said.

Advanced Placement classes target college-bound students. If a student takes the AP exam and gets a high score, the student will be able to place out of some freshman college courses, said Bob Brown, the school system's supervisor of testing and accountability programs.

Virtually every other rigorous senior year course, such as calculus or physics, had an Advanced Placement designation with no alternate certificate of merit, or honors, class offered along with it, Michael said.

Certificate of merit classes have since been renamed honors classes, he said.

Honors English is offered to students in grades 9,10 and 11, he said. Students who have taken those courses are considered above grade level and should be prepared for the advanced placement class by their senior year, he said.

Williamsport High School Principal John Davidson, who was principal at Hancock Middle/Senior High School last year, said Hancock was the first school to consolidate the two English classes. He said that was a decision based on class enrollments, not master plan goals.

He said some students shy away from taking Advanced Placement courses because they are worried about damaging their grade point average or want to cruise through their senior year of high school.

Brown presented the School Board with county student score data from the SAT, PSAT and Student Outcome and Achievement Report (SOAR). He said upper-level students did not do as well as lower-level students on their SAT verbal test scores when compared to students from other counties.

Brown said the upper-level students need to be challenged more.

"They will come back later and they will tell you they didn't like it," Davidson said. "But in college, it will really help them."

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