Oak Park and River Forest High School is seen on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, on Lake Street in Oak Park, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

One member of the Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 Board of Education is calling for a progress report on how the school’s new policy of detracking most freshmen classes is going sooner rather than later.

“I don’t want to wait three years down the road to know whether it’s working or not,” said school board member Fred Arkin at the school board’s Sept. 8 Committee of the Whole meeting. “I want to know by November how it’s going.”

Administrators plan to report to the school board later this fall on the new policy that was approved last year but one administrator cautioned that initial data could be inconclusive and that it will take some time to know if the new program is working.

“We have to be really careful that we aren’t trying to define too quickly whether or not all of our freshmen students are being successful based on one or two short term things that could change in two weeks, or three weeks, or a quarter,” said Laurie Fiorenza, assistant superintendent for student learning, in response to Arkin’s request. “I think we need to be very careful that we don’t send a message that we’re going to be able to decide by November.”

OPRF eliminated college prep classes at the freshman level this year in a move to promote equity and get more Black students into higher level classes. Most freshman classes, other than math, are now only taught at the Honors level although about 15 percent of OPRF freshmen are in lower level Transitions classes.

“Those are typically students with IEP’s (Individualized Education Plans) frequently,” said OPRF spokeswoman Karin Sullivan.

While OPRF has eliminated tracking for most freshman classes math is exempt because freshmen at OPRF take a wide range of math classes.

“There are about 10 different entry points into math so that is an area that definitely needs to be streamlined, but we are not at that point yet,” Sullivan said. “That’s a more complex area to look at. We definitely think there would be benefits to streamlining the entry points and that’s where we’re at right now.”

Sullivan said she’s heard anecdotally that the new freshman curriculum is going well but it is too soon to say how it going with any degree of real knowledge.

“At this point it’s really too early,” Sullivan said. “We really don’t have any data at this point. We’re hearing that it’s going really well but that’s just a general comment.”

Sullivan said that OPRF will continue to offer Honors, College Prep and Advanced Placement classes to sophomores, juniors and seniors.

“We have no plans to detrack sophomore, junior or senior (years),” Sullivan said. “I know that is something that people expressed concern about but we will continue to have Honors and AP classes.”

Data presented at the Sept. 8 meeting indicate a great disparity in enrollment in Honors classes, grades and test scores among various ethnic groups at OPRF. Over the last five years only six to 10 percent of students enrolled in sophomore Honors English at OPRF have been Black while approximately 18 percent of all OPRF students are Black. Black students only accounted for six to seven percent of students enrolled in sophomore Honors science, six to 10 percent of sophomore Honors history classes and eight to nine percent of sophomore Honors World Languages enrollment.

Hispanics were slightly underrepresented in all sophomore honors classes at OPRF except for World Languages. Hispanic students accounted for nine to 12 percent of students enrolled in sophomore Honors English over the last five years while Hispanics accounted for about 13 percent of all OPRF students.

White and Asian students were generally overrepresented in Honors classes. Sophomore Honor’s English  had 64 to 73 percent of white students over the past five years according to data provided to the school board when approximately 55 percent of sophomores were white.

Over the past five years white and Asian students received higher grades in the freshmen classes that have been restructured. Some 78 to 88 percent of white students and 80 to 96 percent of Asian students received grades of A or B in these classes compared to 49 percent to 64 percent of Black students and 64 percent to 74 percent of Hispanic students over the past five years. 

White and Asian students have also scored much higher on the SAT college entrance examination than Black and Hispanic students. Last year 71 percent of white students,76 percent of Asian students and 54 percent of multiracial students at OPRF students who took the SAT met or exceeded the College Board’s expectations in math compared to just 22 percent of Black students and 40 percent of Hispanic students at OPRF.

In the reading and writing portion of the SAT 92 percent of white students, 86 percent of Asian students and 80 percent of multiracial students at OPRF met or exceeded expectations compared to 39 percent of Black students and 66 percent of Hispanic students.  

Fiorenza said there will be two major benchmarks to judge whether the revamped freshman curriculum is working or not. Those will be whether the classes maintain OPRF’s standards of academic rigor while closing the gap in performance between students of different races and ethnicities.

“The equity issue here is access,” wrote Fiorenza and Learning Analytics Coordinator Kristen McKee in their report to the board. “By opening access, improving these numbers, reducing disproportionality, and disrupting the harm we are currently causing we will know we are making progress. We also recognize that change is not linear. By increasing access and providing students a more rigorous experience that may not have been in place before, we know that challenges may lie ahead.”

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