The Beaufort County School District will offer more high school-level classes -- including science and English -- in the middle schools, reinstating a program discontinued five years ago.
Physical science, which most students take in ninth grade, will be offered in middle schools starting in the 2014-15 school year. An English writing class will follow in 2015-16.
Some high school-level math and several foreign languages classes are already offered to eighth-graders.
"The concept is that the earlier students get some high school courses out of the way, the more opportunities they will have as upperclassmen," chief instructional services officer Dereck Rhoads said.
High school English, science and math classes were first offered to middle-schoolers in 1996. The Beaufort County Board of Education, at the urging of then-superintendent Valerie Truesdale, changed its policy in 2009 and removed the English and science credits.
Truesdale and others were concerned that since many seniors had enough or nearly enough credits to graduate before their senior year they didn't make the most of their final year in high school. Some even graduated after their junior year.
However, board member JoAnn Orischak, who was not on the board at the time, said she and many parents were upset by that decision because students couldn't take as many International Baccalaureate or advanced placement classes in high school. She said she is pleased high school classes will be offered again at the middle schools.
Rhoads said the expectation now is that seniors will use their final year for advanced courses, technical education or apprenticeships.
The high school classes offered in middle school will be honors-level courses.
Those courses aren't for every middle school student, Bluffton Middle School math teacher Pamela Pray cautions.
"But there are kids that are ready and need to accelerate, and we can't accelerate them with the current options available," she added.
This time around, middle school teachers and guidance counselors will be urged to communicate more effectively with parents and students, so they know what they're getting into, according to Bonnie Almond, the district's director of secondary education.
Students' scores and academic paths will be considered to make the right class placements, she added.
The district also intends to give high school upperclassmen more options, so they have a reason to take full schedules in their senior year, superintendent Jeff Moss has said. That will include apprenticeships, study that will help them earn industrial certifications, and college-level classes through the University of South Carolina Beaufort or the Technical College of the Lowcountry, he said.
Graduating early would be a possibility for students, but the district would not encourage it, Rhoads said.
"It's not for students to be graduating or leaving early ... that's not the reason for adding high school credits to the middle school," he said. "We want to provide additional opportunities and rigor for students."
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.