The Board of Education finally approved a revised section in the Program Planning Guide for 2008-2009, concerning the designation of honor graduates.
In an attempt to encourage students to take Advanced Placement courses, the board had discussed changing the policy to require prospective Top Ten students to take AP courses in order to be considered for the designation.
The program guide was not approved at April's work session because it failed to address growing concerns that the Top Ten did not adequately reflect a rigorous course load. School officials went back to the drawing board and revised the policy.
The "Top Ten" designation has not changed and will remain as the top 10 honor graduates from the college preparatory program of study. What has changed, in essence, is what it will take to be a top honor graduate.
Beginning with the graduating class of 2012, the county will offer an honor graduate with a distinction designation for students who take a minimum of two Advanced Placement courses. Students named as first and second honor graduates shall be the students with the highest and second-highest numerical averages, who will graduate as honor graduates with distinction. The next eight positions in rank of honor graduates with distinction will comprise the Top Ten students.
The board hopes the revised policy will encourage students to accept the additional challenge AP courses offer as well as increase the number of AP courses offered.
Board member C.C. Bates said other parts of the United States offer tougher requirements for honor graduates, and the district needs to encourage students to take tougher classes.
"I'd like to see maybe more than two AP courses," Bates said. "There are other states whose honor graduates take a minimum of five to seven AP courses. I think that stepping it up, we're encouraging our kids to take a more rigorous curriculum."
Bates says she hopes more can be done to encourage AP coursework. As it is, AP courses require 16 students enrolled; otherwise the course can not be offered. Because the county does not currently mandate AP courses for top honor graduates, several classes do not make it and the students who do sign up end up taking advanced classes instead.
"It disappoints me to think that there may be 10 kids who take an AP course and it doesn't make," Bates said. "I think we should offer the classes to those kids and I know that means more money, but at some point we have to offer something to those kids who are willing and able to take the harder classes."
Bates agreed that two would be a good start but left open the possibility or revisiting the subject sometime in the near future.
"I'd like to continue to look at picking up our AP program," Bates said. "There are a lot of AP classes that could be offered, and we offer the bare-minimum."
Fellow BOE member Johnny Smith, who originally raised the question while looking at the planning guide back in April, agreed with Bates and added he too would like to see the AP program in Newton County grow.
"I'm hoping this will grow our AP program," Smith said. "Hopefully, we can look at this down the road and add two, three, four or five AP classes. This is a start, but if kids sign up for AP classes, we need to be willing to teach them."
In addition to the AP class requirement, the new guide says 10 points will be added to the student's final class average for AP, joint enrollment and dual enrollment courses in English/language arts, mathematics, science, social studies or foreign language.
County officials continued working with the board to draft a policy as the revisions have been on the table for several meetings. Through a series of work sessions, the county arrived on the designation structure, and while the changes may not be a long-term solution, board members and officials agree it's a start.
"I think what we have before us, right now, will fit," said BOE member Almond Turner. "I think later on we need to readdress this, but I think right now this fits our needs and the schools can implement this in the fall."