Middle school students, who take world language courses, will be able to get high school credit beginning next year, under a new measure approved by the Harford County Board of Education Monday night.
Barbara Canavan, Harford County Public Schools' executive director of middle school performance and the board's unanimous appointee as interim superintendent of the school system, was among the three-person panel who presented the recommendation to the board during its business meeting Monday in Bel Air.
The panel included William Lawrence, associate superintendent for curriculum, instruction and assessment, and Kimberly Banks, supervisor of the Office of World Languages and ESOL (English as a Second Language).
Lawrence said it was "one of Ms. Canavan's last performances on this side of the dais."
School officials had spent a nearly a year working with a World Language Task Force on the proposal, he said.
The school board had approved a recommendation several years ago to allow middle school students to take high school algebra and geometry for elective credit, he said.
The recommendation of Superintendent Robert Tomback – Canavan will take office July 1 – calls for giving students elective high school credit for languages as well, rather than course credit. The languages would include French, German and Spanish.
He said that will allow students to increase the number of years they have to study a foreign language.
Banks said several middle schools around the county offer foreign language, but they are not offered countywide.
"Regardless of how many schools we end up with and regardless of how many students it impacts, we feel, the superintendent feels and the task force felt that it is important to encourage students to take foreign language in middle school," Lawrence said.
Tomback noted Harford County's proximity to facilities such as Aberdeen Proving Ground and the National Security Agency in the Washington, D.C., region, and the "enormous opportunities" that would be open to students who have proficiency in another language.
He said encouraging more middle school students to pursue high school-level foreign languages at the entry level could encourage them to take higher-level courses, including Advanced Placement, in high school.
Tomback said the rationale behind the math and language policy changes, as well as encouraging students to increase the number and rigor of their science classes was "to allow more students greater opportunity to go further in every aspect of their education."
Board member Robert Frisch proposed an amendment to allow the middle school students to receive "course-specific credit" to satisfy the school system's high school graduation requirement for world languages.
He and board President Rick Grambo argued allowing course credit would give students and parents greater choice regarding language education – Frisch said an eighth grader willing to take on the same course work as a ninth grader should have the opportunity to do so.
"I don't see that there's any harm in awarding the high school credit," Frisch said.
The amendment failed on a 5-4 vote. Several board members felt it would create inequity among students, and would be inconsistent with similar school system policies in other subjects, such as math.
"My concern is, we need to be consistent in whichever approach we decide to adopt," board member Cassandra Beverly said.
Frisch defended his amendment.
"As far as this being inequitable, that's our fault," he said. "The fact that we don't have language in all of our middle schools, that's on us."