On Aug. 23, Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 officials announced a major curriculum change designed to address a historic problem at the high school — for years, the majority of students in freshmen honors courses have been white while college prep courses have contained a disproportionate amount of black and brown students.

In a statement, D200 officials said that starting in the 2021-22 school year, freshmen will no longer be separated into college preparatory and honors course levels; instead, they will all be “be given the chance to earn honors credit through one, high-level, rigorous curriculum” in English, science, history and world language.

During an interview on Friday, Greg Johnson, D200’s associate superintendent, said that once the single curriculum is rolled out in 2021-22, freshmen at OPRF will receive honors credit based on how they perform — not on the class they’re in.

Officials said that the information gleaned from students’ performance in this single curriculum will be more expansive than the more limited data, such as standardized test scores, that the school heavily relies on to guide course placement recommendations. That status quo process, officials explained in the statement, has resulted in “racially predictable course placements.” The new single curriculum is designed to expand access to honors and AP courses for black and brown students.

More importantly, Johnson said, the curriculum change should enhance how all students learn during their first year of high school.

During a presentation at a regular school board meeting on Thursday, Johnson explained that the roll of out the new freshman curriculum will take place over three years. The 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years will not feature any curriculum changes, he said; instead, teachers and administrators will research best practices, gather data and pilot the single curriculum model among a small cohort of freshmen. Full implementation of the single freshman curriculum will take place in 2021-22 school year.

Laurie Fiorenza, the district’s director of student learning, said Friday that the freshman curriculum change builds on efforts already underway to tailor learning to students’ individual needs and to expand the academic and social support system available to all students at OPRF.

“As we continue to move forward, we want to systematize even more [those efforts] and expand the range of interventions that are available and the ways that kids can access those interventions,” she said. “The scope is bigger. It’s not just closing [learner gaps] for students, but how do we accelerate some of our top learners, as well.”

In an FAQ provided by Karin Sullivan, D200’s communications director, the district is careful to describe how the proposed freshman curriculum restructuring compares to detracking — a term that has generated some controversy.

“There are different notions of what tracking really is,” the FAQ explains. “For us, where there had been separate college prep and honors classes, we are moving to a single, rigorous, honors-level curriculum. So in that sense, yes, we are detracking much of the freshman curriculum. In order to inform this work, we are drawing heavily from the detracking literature. This is an evidence-based practice that will enhance learning for all of our students.”

The FAQ also states that research shows that “increasing access to more rigorous curriculum increases achievement.”

In the statement released Friday, D200 Supt. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams was careful to distinguish between academic achievement and academic opportunity.

“OPRF, like schools throughout the United States, has been grappling with how to address differences in student outcomes that are predictable by race,” Pruitt-Adams stated. “While many people refer to this as the achievement gap, 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. We don’t need to fix students. We need to fix the system.”

To access the district’s FAQ on the freshman curriculum restructuring, click here.

A community information session on the restructuring will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 7 p.m., at the OPRF Tutoring Center, 201 N. Scoville Ave. Additional sessions will take place at all three middle schools. Dates and times will be announced soon, officials said.

CONTACT: michael@oakpark.com  

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