Ninth grade, on-level history courses are disappearing at some county schools, forcing incoming freshman to enroll in honors or advanced placement U.S. History.
Winston Churchill High School announced in late February it would no longer offer the on-level, freshman history course moving forward, joining neighboring , which eliminated the option prior to this school year.
The lack of on-level options at the Potomac and Rockville schools are consistent with Cabin John Middle School PTSA President Merry Eisner’s belief that “.” But Wootton principal Michael Doran said the decision was made based on class numbers and his students have responded well to the change.
Typically for an incoming class of 600 students, Doran has approximately 15 honors or AP history courses and only two on-level classes, he said, adding it becomes very difficult to teach the two on-level groups in a way that’s “enriching, enlightening, and creative.”
Instead, Wootton elected to split up the two classes and push the on-level students out into honors courses Doran said, placing two or three kids of those students into each honors-level course.
“Not only are they in a different environment, the teacher expects you all to succeed, it’s more fun, it’s more discussion,” Doran told Patch about the kids moved up to honors. “So a lot of those kids who weren’t even doing well in on-level actually do pretty well when they’re exposed to a different kind of [environment] and they’re treated differently.”
Doran said he and his staff understand many kids are on-level in certain subjects and may not be ready for an increased workload and the school provides additional help for students who struggle in honors courses.
Multiple messages for ’s advising office were not returned in time for this publication.
The school initially removed the on-level courses without warning by only offering honors and AP U.S. History (freshman history) on its 2012-13 registration forms, according to a report by the Examiner.
“Some parents point to the fact that the school was recommending that students sign up for the AP course,” the report reads. “Popular school rankings are based on the number of AP courses taken by students, and the elimination of other options may be one way to secure a better rank.”
Doran however insisted the benefits are for the students only, not for schools rankings.
“We understand you can’t be thrown into honors and suddenly you’re brilliant,” the Wootton principal said. “When we finally did this, we ended up with a lot of kids who end up just going with this [honors] group and never looking like they were ever in that [on-level] group.”
Cutting Classes Nothing New for County Schools
Quince Orchard Principal Carole Working said she doesn’t remember exactly when the school began dropping on-level courses, but she’s been without on-level ninth grade science and on-level 11th grade English courses for at least two years.
Prior to making the change, the school studied others that had dropped on-levels and felt QO students could be more successful if everyone was immersed in honors-level classes, Working said, adding the cutbacks were also partially driven by staffing issues.
“When the cutbacks were made we also began realizing that were many kids who were more capable than what they were being asked,” Working told Patch. “They moved up with no discomfort and we were monitoring them very closely the first few years.”
Those students have continued to do well, and Working said all of the students involved have seen their grade point average increase.
Like Doran, Working said she felt an enriched learning environment and support system is the cause.
“I think part of the reason for it is because the students help each other,” she said. “I think also, because this is one of the things I ask my teachers a lot, why do [the on-level students] outperform [in honors]? The top end kids sometimes do much better too and I think it’s because anybody can ask a question in there.”
It’s unclear how many schools countywide have cut on-level courses and multiple messages for MCPS were not returned in time for this publication.