Last week, in the first of four public meetings, OPRF officials faced a packed house of parents — curious and critical, supportive and dubious — ready to hear more about the school’s bold plan to eliminate academic tracking for freshmen beginning two school years from now.
This bold change is critical and overdue. It acknowledges and seeks to upend the reality that the long practice of assigning incoming freshmen to a future of either an honors track or the far more basic college prep track determines outcomes. It recognizes that the basis of these determinative tracking assignments is based on seriously imperfect measures of standardized tests and a recommendation system between middle schools and the high school that is flawed. More elementally, the new plan makes plain that the current tracking for freshmen reinforces racial division and furthers the gaps in academics and discipline that we have long ineffectively wrung our hands and callously furrowed our brows over.
Enough of that.
Now the school is stating plainly what many have long argued. The vast majority of our students are capable of more. Through tracking, we have fostered a school-wide, a community-wide culture of low expectations. As a result, our students, largely students of color, have lived down to and suffered from our low expectations.
Laurie Fiorenza, director of student learning, let loose this startling statistic during last week’s meeting. Eighty-four percent of the students our system tracked into the less rigorous college prep track have the capacity, according to College Board requirements, of taking honors classes.
So what does the school’s new plan accomplish? It will remake the entire freshman curriculum — math excluded, which will continue to be tracked — by 2021 and infuse it with more challenging work for all students. This will allow those freshmen, with support from their families, to prove their ability to do more advanced work, at least in some subject areas, during their final three years of high school. They will, as the high school terms it, “earn honors.” It also allows high school teachers and deans to actively know these young people, to assess their ability beyond the limits of standardized tests, with an eye to boosting them into honors. It demands that the high school aggressively surround students — those who will excel in every circumstance and those who need some measure of support — with the tools they need to rise.
This isn’t the end of honors and advance placement courses. It is the start of their flowering as the destination for far more students.
We have advice for the handful who complained this has all been sprung on them: Pay attention. Read the news. And listen when Superintendent Joylynn Pruitt-Adams says nothing is being sprung, that the plan is being announced two years in advance and will continue to evolve, based on public input.
It was gratifying to see last week the number of white parents, in particular, who see the beauty and the power in this plan. Resources are not being snatched from traditional high achievers. No bars are being lowered. Expectations are rising. Opportunity is expanding. Equity is being expanded.