Questions from Community Meetings

In early fall 2019, the district held four community presentations on restructuring the freshman curriculum in 2021-2022. A total of roughly 500 people attended, and some submitted questions that weren't addressed during the question-and-answer portion of the events. Many of the questions were similar to one another; the following is a compilation based on both specific questions and general themes of the questions.

The condition that would be achieved if students’ racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how they fare.

Tracking is a practice that public schools have historically used to separate students into different courses of study based on perceived ability levels. This practice has taken many different forms over time, and is currently in use in many different ways in schools across the country.

Choice is essentially what we currently have in place. The shortcoming with choice is that it does not lead to more equitable outcomes, something this is a core value and goal of our school district.

The goal of implementing a more inclusive freshman curriculum has been part of our strategic plan for several years, and has been something that we have discussed in open meetings with community members for quite some time. We have now formalized our plans and included an implementation date for this initiative. The restructured freshman curriculum will not go into effect for two years, allowing us to gather community and parent feedback throughout our planning process.

There is, in fact, quite a bit of research to support the notion that the earlier these types of interventions can be provided, the more successful they’ll be. Districts 90 and 97 are both dedicated to providing an excellent education for all of our students. Our responsibility in District 200 is to our students, however, and so that is where we are focused.

No. The process we currently use to place students into the right level language course will remain. So if a student from the middle school tests into Spanish 5-6, for example, that’s exactly where they’ll be placed. The only difference is that we will no longer have separate courses for Spanish 1 honors and Spanish 1 college prep.

Models data helps to illustrate that classes that are more heterogeneously grouped than our traditional courses can prepare students for high-level success on Advanced Placement assessments. We can certainly learn from what we’ve done in these classes; however, what we will develop in other disciplines will be based on evidence-based practices that are appropriate for that content.

It won’t. The restructured curriculum is being rolled out at the freshman level only.

In our 2018-2019 Models of Physics (which is a freshman course), about 50% of the enrollees earned honors credit. The numbers vary from year to year, but this is a fairly reliable average.

We don’t anticipate that the restructuring will affect class size.

We certainly  will be making revisions to our curriculum in grades 10-12 in future years. However, we do not have plans to do a similar integration of all honors and all college prep classes in those grades.

Inequitable access to rigorous, honors level coursework is not confined to one division. It affects all content areas in similar ways.

Our planning is taking us in the direction of designing an honors level curriculum for all of our students. One trap that schools could fall into with this type of change would be to teach to the middle, failing to meet the real needs of all of our students. As a result, our plan is to teach at the honors level, but also provide support, both inside and outside the classroom, so that all students can access the level of rigor we have come to expect of our honors-level freshman classes.

We are implementing pilot units of study for next school year, which we will analyze and use to help build all teachers’ skills at differentiation. After full implementation of the restructured curriculum in fall 2021, we will be monitoring the effectiveness of our work in a number of ways, which includes partnering with a local university to assist in the evaluation work.

We planned four different sessions in different locations in an effort to accommodate as many people’s schedules as possible. We also are working with our parent groups and key stakeholders to share information as widely as possible. We will continue to do broad outreach to ensure that all parents are informed about the changes.

We don’t believe that a solution that addresses only some of our population is the right answer. Our focus is on addressing historical, systemic inequities, allowing all students to benefit from the high school  and post-high school options that are available to them through our more advanced courses.

The traditional notions of who is and who is not “capable” is exactly what we’re trying to disrupt here. However, we are spending the next two years building teachers’ ability to differentiate their instruction to meet the needs of all students.

As in any field of social science, outcomes in detracking research are mixed. However, the preponderance of evidence is that when done carefully, it works. The research is clear that tracking  is and has historically been problematic for African American and Latinx students, because it places these students in tracks that are consistently correlated with lower academic outcomes. As we have seen in our own data, many of these students often have very similar academic profiles to their honors-enrolled peers, yet find themselves in less-rigorous academic experiences. The evidence that supports the current system of tracking often illustrates that detracking could have a detrimental effect on high achieving students if it’s not done well. This is why we are:

  • Planning to teach to a high-level rigorous experience for all students. 
  • Taking two years of planning and professional development to prepare ourselves for this change.
  • Continuing our professional learning well into and after implementation.
  • Planning for a rigorous evaluation of our work, done both internally and with external research assistance.

Our goal is for race and ethnicity to cease being predictors of enrollment in high-level course work, so that students earning honors and AP credits will mirror the demographics of our overall population.

We have widespread support among our teachers centered on the idea that our current system is not equitable for our Black and Brown students and change is necessary. Like all of us, teachers are engaged in the discussion about how we will  implement this two years from now.

Effectively  teaching students of different abilities and learning styles is not a new process; it is an integral part of good instruction. Nevertheless, we will be providing all teachers with professional development that focuses on how to expand their differentiation skills.

Next year we will be piloting new and revised curricular elements  (units, lessons, assessments) in multiple classes across English, history, and science, and so opting out will not be possible. The pilots will be taught by teachers who have been part of the curriculum writing committee and who will teach a 9th grade course.

In this scenario, the child in support level classes would likely remain in those classes. The other two would take the earned honors classes, where each would be given the resources they need to succeed. This is a defining characteristic of equity: giving each student the resources they need to achieve their full potential, even if those resources are different from what another student may require.