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Wootton, Churchill Not The First To Cut On-Level Courses

Wootton and Churchill have cut on-level history courses for 2011-12 and 2012-13, respectively, but they aren't the first county school to drop some on-levels.

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.

Merry Eisner March 15, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Given that I'm quoted in this story, I wanted to clarify what I said. I was referring to an article in the "Washington Post" written by Jay Mathews (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/how-students-can-survive-the-ap-course-workload/2012/03/01/gIQA8u28qR_story.html) suggesting that when students are bound for high schools offering a greater number of AP courses, " students who don’t take as many APs or IBs as their high school classmates, may be at a disadvantage when applying to big state universities and other colleges that don’t have much time to review each application." Churchill and Wootton are both such high schools. Students from Cabin John Middle School are bound for these two high schools - unless they choose to attend a magnet school or IB school - thus they will encounter the pressure to take a higher number of AP or IB courses than the average student in the county and the state in order to compete with their peers for college admission.
Amy Wong January 08, 2013 at 12:45 AM
My child is in the ninth grade at Winston Churchill High School. He has an IEP and certainly does not have the requisite skills as outlined by MCPS policies to be placed in an honors level class. The textbook is written above his reading comprehension level; therefore, he does not understand the readings or the questions as worded on the standardized tests. We have purchased every possible ancillary product manufactured by the publisher and spent hours at home to no avail. He continues to fail his honors US history class. The law requires an appropriate education and the "works for most" approach is not in alignment with the law. His placement has affected all of his other grades because the majority of his time is spent studying for history when if he were in an on-level class that time could be better allocated to increase his understanding in his other courses. The school should consider that if every student were capable of honors work then does it really meet the definition of "honors?" In my opinion, the system is failing a subsection of students and the teachers who are mandated to teach them.

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