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The Student News Site of McLean High School

The Highlander

The Student News Site of McLean High School

The Highlander

Advancing standards benefit students

FCPS’s revised academic goals are essential to students’ progress
Advancing standards benefit students

The curriculum changes that have been introduced and implemented in the 2023-2030 Strategic Plan is an important and positive step for Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) students. 

The Strategic Plan is the comprehensive strategy or “north star” for how FCPS will augment the student experience for the next seven years, and it defines the major goals for this time period. Among the five major goals of this plan, number three hopes to change the way students grow academically within FCPS, holding students to higher academic standards. 

This goal will push students to complete Algebra 1 (A1) by eighth grade, as well as taking advanced coursework for high school. Specifically, FCPS aims to raise the percentage of students taking A1 by eighth grade and advanced courseworks by 5% over the current school year, with a final goal of at least 90% by 2030. An advanced coursework refers to taking an honors, AP, IB, DE or CTE course before graduation.

In this era of college applications and academic competition, it is crucial for students to excel and choose the more difficult courses, without which most students cannot even hope to get a foot in the door. Although this is a source of stress for many students, it is reality. 

“Advanced courses are crucial for high school and college access,” school board member Rachna Sizemore Heizer said. “That’s why this goal is so important.”

It is crucial that students take more challenging courses earlier, and it’s a step in the right direction for FCPS, better preparing students for the future with gradual changes.

After taking A1 in eighth grade, students will be the gateway that limits them in high school. Without the course, students are unable to pursue more advanced math courses that will define the foundation for job opportunities in the next few decades, such as computer science.

As for advanced courseworks, taking one provides GPA boosts. When applying for colleges, the GPA is one of the most decisive statistics, since it reflects academic performance in the eyes of the application reviewers. 

It is also important to take into consideration AP credits, meaning that students can essentially take college level courses earlier. This will further enhance the amount of experience that students have before graduating high school, a clear benefit in the long term.

Of course, there are also valid concerns about the academic pressure that this change may bring upon students. With McLean’s competitive environment, it could be said that some will be left behind as the pace accelerates. 

“I think that forcing kids to take A1 in eighth grade is setting some kids up for future failure,” A1 teacher Ciara Beebe said. “The kids who fail are going to be weeded out more in high school. They’re going to end up being the absolute lowest kids.”

However, at its core, the Strategic Plan is focused on an incremental shift, providing students and teachers with the resources needed to succeed from early on.

The baseline report for the strategic plan intends to prepare students for A1 starting as early as kindergarten by evaluating performance on standardized tests, allowing for ample time to prepare students.

“[For the Strategic Plan], we want to see not just growth in student access to advanced courses; we want to see success in these courses,” Heizer said. “We want to make sure that students have strong foundational skills starting from elementary school.”

For most students in FCPS, taking A1 in eighth grade isn’t new. According to the baseline report for this strategic goal, the percentage of students who successfully completed A1 in eighth grade was already 51%. Similarly, 85% of students completed an advanced coursework before graduating high school, again showing that exceeding expectations is nothing new for FCPS students. Within McLean, this number is even higher, with 83.9% of 190 students surveyed having already completed A1 by freshman year and 98.7% of students currently or planning on taking an advanced coursework. 

If students are not well-prepared in school, where the environment is relatively conducive and formative to learning, they may find life even more difficult in college and beyond.

There is no doubt that high school is already stressful. These curriculum changes, although an increase in rigor, reflect prudent future planning that will benefit students once they graduate from FCPS. Students, teachers and parents alike should all embrace the changes outlined in FCPS’s north star. 

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