Letter regarding freshman curriculum restructuring

Aug. 22, 2019

 

Dear OPRF High School Families, 

I hope that this new school year has gotten off to a great start for you and your child. Here at OPRF, we believe that all students are capable of high levels of academic and social success, and we are committed to supporting them in reaching their full potential. 

As part of our goal to remove institutional barriers that prevent students of color from reaching higher levels of achievement, District 200 will change to a single curriculum for freshman English, science, history, and world language courses. Beginning with the 2021-2022 school year, freshmen will no longer be separated into class levels of college preparatory or the more demanding honors. Instead, they will be given the chance to earn honors credit through one, high-level, rigorous curriculum.

Why are we making this change? OPRF, like schools throughout the United States, has been grappling with how to address differences in student outcomes that are predictable by race, commonly referred to as the achievement gap. Here at OPRF, however, we view it as an opportunity gap. We believe that providing more students with access to honors-level experiences from the moment they enter our school will provide them with the opportunity to achieve at the highest levels. In order to create this access, we need to challenge our mindsets: We don’t need to fix students. We need to fix the system.

Currently, we rely heavily on standardized test scores to guide placement recommendations. Using such limited data, before we even know firsthand who our students are as learners, has led to racially predictable course placements. Freshman honors classes contain predominantly white students, and college prep classes disproportionately comprise students of color. Eliminating course levels will not diminish the rigorous experience students and families expect from OPRF. Instead, it will create a culture in which as many students as possible will have the chance to develop their full potential. 

The research is clear that increasing access to more rigorous curriculum increases achievement. In fact, our existing Models of Science pathway has successfully used this approach for several years. These unleveled, demographically diverse science courses in chemistry, physics, and biology provide all the students who take them with the option of earning honors credit. The district’s data validates that these classes fully prepare students for high levels of learning: The AP test scores for students in the Models sequence are on par with their peers in the AP level science classes. 

The district will take two years to roll out the new curriculum, on the following schedule:

  • 2019-2020: A planning year. Teachers and administrators are researching teaching practices, data-driven instruction, culturally responsive teaching, etc. No change to curriculum.
  • 2020-2021: A piloting  year. A year of piloting and gathering data on changes to teaching practices, data-driven instruction, culturally responsive teaching, etc. No change to curriculum.
  • 2021-2022: Implementation year. The new, unleveled freshman curriculum will begin.  

We know that parents and community members will have many questions about this important change. For more information, including links to research, click here

To learn more, all parents and community members are invited to an informational session on Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 7:00 p.m. in the OPRF Tutoring Center. The high school also is in the process of scheduling additional sessions to be held at each of the three District 90 and District 97 middle schools. I look forward to sharing more information and answering your questions at these sessions.

Sincerely,

Greg  Johnson
Associate Superintendent