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FG President in Connection Newspaper Re: Honors Courses


Announced on: Friday, January 14, 2011

Fighting for Honors Program
FCPS says cost for student data: $2,052.

By Gerald A. Fill
Friday, January 14, 2011
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The Real World, Real Grades (RWRG) parent group is fighting to restore the Honors program at West Potomac High School.

In response, the Fairfax County Public Schools would charge $2,052 to fulfill an RWRG request for student performance data.

Last month, a group of West Potomac High School parents believed changes in grading policies and a phase out of the school’s honors program were objectionable and mounted an effort to cause the Fairfax County Public School system to temporarily rescind the controversial grading policies. The phase out of the Honors program, however, continues apace. At the same time the grading policies were rescinded, the West Potomac High School principal formed several teacher and parent-teacher task forces designed to review and comment on the policies.

RWRG’s parents are now participating in the principal’s parent task forces. Their currently stated goals include, according to Kate Vandyck, one of the RWRG founders, to restore the Honors program. Vandyck believes retaining the Honors program is essential to providing a challenging and appropriate learning environment for the majority of students. Her view is that many of the West Potomac High School students who may not qualify for or wish to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses, but are capable of beneficial academic achievement in Honors level courses, should have that option.

Vandyck contends that the public school system’s elimination of Honors programs where AP courses are offered is forcing the majority of students to choose between taking an Advanced Placement (AP) class or a General Education (GE) class, the latter of which includes underachieving students. This, she says, is not in the best interests of any of the students.”

To understand the school system’s rationale behind the phase-out of Honors programs, RWRG formulated a set of questions regarding student performance and the research that was conducted by the school system staff to justify eliminating the Honors program. They sent the questions by email to the Area Superintendent Scott Brabrand at his request. What they received in an email response surprised them. Paul Regnier, the communication officer for the FCPS, emailed the parent group and said the information requested was such that it constituted a Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and the information would cost the parent group approximately $2,052. Some RWRG parents view the FOIA charge as amounting to obstructionism and an effort to discourage RWRG from following through with the information request.

RWRG is reviewing existing data and studies and talking to parent advocacy groups elsewhere in the county in an effort to determine what the basis has been for phasing out the Honors program at West Potomac. At present RWRG has not found any school system documentation or empirical data to justify the phase-out of the Honors program. Also, according to RWRG, it has been accomplished without any School Board vote that they can determine.

FAIRGRADE President Megan McLaughlin, formerly admissions reader at Duke University and admissions officer at Georgetown University, said that “elimination of Honors programs places Fairfax county students at a competitive disadvantage in applying for four year colleges. Many of the high achieving competitive school systems in the nation offer a three-tiered curricula; eliminating it in a county which sends approximately 70 percent of its students to four year colleges does not help our students.” She pointed out that college admissions representatives review the rigor of a student applicants’ academic record. “If there is no Honors alternative to the AP courses they would be taking General Education courses and that could hurt students’ competitive admissions potential.”

Parent Peggy Frydenlund said, “Sure, I would like to see ‘mid-level’ classes remain because in some subjects the kids need that option. Let’s face it — general education classes can be too easy for any child focused on college.”

Another parent, Leslie Paige, said, “The school system’s response to RWRG’s request for data, i.e., to charge us under the Virginia FOIA, could have been handled much better and used as an opportunity to build trust and cooperation. They could have come back to us and said we have the requested information in another format or they could have offered to work with us, so that was very disappointing. “More to the point of all this is the failure on the part of the school system to have readily available basic student performance data that would enable our group to understand the school system’s rationale to eliminate Honors programs where AP classes exist. In my view it is outrageous that so fundamental a restructuring of the education program could be accomplished and the School Board didn’t vote on it and the school system can’t produce the analysis upon which the decision was made.”

Parent Barry Meuse said, “The fact of the matter is so far there is no data available that we have been able to find which justifies the school system’s phase out of the Honors program. Further compounding the problem is that the phase out has taken place county-wide, and the elected School Board has not taken a position on the phase out. I call that abdication of its responsibility for oversight of the heart and soul of the education program for our students — the curricula.”