This year, Oak Park and River Forest High School has fully implemented the freshman restructuring plan that they have been developing for the past five years — and which arguably came out of conversations that started a decade ago or more.

The school and community supporters worked together to create this plan to address the disparities in student outcomes that Oak Park and River Forest, like many other communities, has seen and perpetuated: disparities in racial groups taking and passing Honors and AP classes and tests, disparities in GPAs, and disparities in test scores. The school realized that continuing to work in the same way would continue to produce the same results, so they decided to make a change. 

Previously, freshmen were tracked into Honors and College Prep tracks in English, Social Science, and Science, with 15% of students enrolled in Transitions level courses, which go at a slower pace and are intended to offer more supports. Now all students who previously would have been enrolled in the Honors and College Prep tracks for those same courses are all placed in the Honors-level curriculum, while a similar percentage continues to participate in the Transitions curriculum.

The division of students into Honors and College Prep tracks was always to some degree about access — white students, Asian students, and higher-income students were all overrepresented in the Honors track. And the previous Honors track did not necessarily represent “higher-performing” students: while the average PSAT score of students in Honors classes in past years was higher than the average score of students in the College Prep classes, there has always been significant overlap in scores between these two groups.

Most College Prep students have always been capable of Honors-level work — now the school intends to provide them the support to engage in it. In the 10th through 12th grades, students will continue to experience the same curriculum they have in the past, but the hope is that more students, reflecting the demographics of OPRF, will access Honors-level courses as they move into later grades after having received the support and experiences they needed in their ninth-grade year.

Some people have insinuated or claimed directly that the district does not have plans to monitor the outcomes of this restructured curriculum, but that is not the case. The district has developed plans to assess these changes.

In the short-term, they are monitoring the growth in students’ skills in each of their classes, as well as the experiences that students, teachers, and administrators are having with the new curriculum.

In the medium-term, they are following the percentage of freshman students who enroll in sophomore Honors courses with the goal that sophomore Honors enrollment will increase, especially among underrepresented groups such as Black and Latinx students. They are also monitoring student grades to make sure that they are earning similar or higher grades in ninth grade and later.

In the long-term, the district will monitor Honors and AP course enrollment, grade distribution over time, and PSAT, SAT, and AP scores to verify that students who previously were achieving at high levels continue to do so and those who were previously underrepresented increase their achievement.

OPRF is in the very early days of implementing its freshman restructuring. We need to hold them accountable for doing so. We recognize that the school will likely need to provide new methods and sources of intervention and support to ensure continued growth and academic success for all students. As a community, we must be vigilant, demanding that all our students get the support they need and that resources are directed in an equitable manner.

The school also must carry out its plan to monitor outcomes in the short, medium, and long terms to guarantee that this plan moves the district toward its intended effects. Through the shared attention of parents, community members, and school staff, we must work to confirm that the school has the time and dedicates the resources to make this plan successful for all students.

Mary Bird, Mark Christiansen, John Duffy, Burcy Hines, Ralph Lee, Sarah Schriber, and James Schwartz are members of the Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education.

Join the discussion on social media!