Honors classes (sort of) to return in Barrington; fed-up parents demand original program

BARRINGTON — Barrington High School is bringing back a version of honors classes this fall to answer a drumbeat of disapproval from families and students over the last year.

Principal Joseph Hurley stunned parents Wednesday night when he said the high school was bringing back an honors distinction in English and social studies in September, although the details are still being worked out.

That infuriated parents who have already gone through at least two versions of the honors designation. Their response to the latest twist was this: bring back the original honors classes, which were open to every student and had widespread participation.

Hurley acknowledged that the high school didn’t consider the impact of doing away with honors classes would have on students who apply for merit scholarships.

“That was a game-changer,” he told a packed auditorium. “What wasn’t considered was the impact on financial aid.”

Barrington High School: Parents want their honors classes back; school board meets Monday to discuss

The student entrance at the Barrington High School.
The student entrance at the Barrington High School.

Changes in honors classes at Barrington High School

First, the district did away with honors classes. Then, when parents rebelled, it instituted an honors designation, sort of an honors "light." Then, two weeks ago, the district announced it was doing away with the designation altogether, just days before students signed up for next year’s courses.

Parents on Wednesday said the high school was doing a disservice to all students by eliminating the honors track and consolidating three levels of English, including a noncollege prep level, into one.

Families said they no longer had faith in the school committee because, they claimed, it had failed to take a stand on this issue and done a poor job of communicating why the change was necessary.

School leaders have said that the move to “delevel” classes provides all students with the rigorous curriculum previously available only to honors students.

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'No one is happy with the results'

But families said the new approach hurts students who might be average academically but given the chance to challenge themselves might shine in honors classes. Several parents said far fewer students have now enrolled in the honors-designation class because the class pushes out students who fail to score 88% on an in-class assessment.

Several parents said eliminating honors classes would hurt their children’s opportunity to attend highly selective colleges, especially when competing against high schools that do offer honors.

“This is a self-inflicted wound,” said parent Julie Owens. “No one is happy with the results.”

Linda Borg covers education for the Journal.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Honors classes to return to Barrington RI, but parents want original