First quarter grade data for freshmen at Oak Park and River Forest High School reveal little change, with one exception, in grade distribution in the first year of the revised freshman curriculum. This year OPRF has eliminated “college prep” classes for freshman in English, Science and History and are teaching those classes at only the Honors and Transitions levels. The revamped freshman curriculum is designed to place more Black and Hispanic students in Honors classes.

School administrators and board members cautioned that results from a single quarter tell little about the long-term results of the changes underway.

Grades for OPRF freshmen in this year’s first quarter showed a slight decrease in A grades, from 45.8% in the 2021-22 school year to 42.3% this year. There was also a slight decrease in D/F grades. Last year 8.4% of freshman grades were D’s or F’s compared to 6.5% this year.  Grades of B remained almost the same, 31.7% last year compared to 31.6% this year while C grades increased to 19.5% this year from 14.3% last year according to a report that administrators presented to the OPRF Board of Education at its Nov. 3 meeting.

When broken down by race and ethnicity A grades for Asian or Pacific Islander students took the biggest drop, falling from 69.9% of grades by Asian or Pacific Islander freshmen last year to 59% this year. However school administers say that data regarding Asian and Pacific Islander freshmen should be interpreted with caution because of the small sample size. On a percentage basis Asian and Pacific Islander freshmen were more likely to receive an A than freshmen of any other racial or ethnic group.

While the number of A’s and B’s Black students received remained very similar to last year Black OPRF freshmen earned more C’s and fewer D’s and F’s than last year. In the first quarter of the 2021-22 school year 21.4% of Black OPRF freshmen earned a C grade in Honors or College Prep classes. This year 31% of Black OPRF freshmen earned a grade of C in Honors classes. Grades of D decreased from 13% of all grades by Black freshmen in Honors or College Prep classes last year to 9.4% this year. F grades decreased from 9.6% for Black freshmen in Honors or College Prep classes last year to 4.5% this year. This year 25.4% of Black OPRF freshmen in Honors classes received A’s compared to 25.8% of Black freshmen in Honors or College Prep classes last year. The number of B’s earned by Black freshmen also decreased slightly going from 30.1% last year to 29.7% this year.

Hispanic freshmen earned slightly fewer A’s (37% this year compared to 41.3% last year) but more B’s (33.7% this year compared to 29.7% last year) and C’s (21.6% this year compared to 20.1% last year) than last year. D/F grades for Hispanic freshmen fell by 1.1% compared to last year.

The grades of white students were little changed from last year. This year 49.5% of the grades received by white freshmen were A’s compared to 50% last year. The number of B grades for white freshmen at OPRF also declined slightly going from 33.5% last year to 31.7% this year. White freshmen earned more C’s this year (15.6% of white grades compared 11.3% last year) and the number of D/F grades received by whites fell to 3.3% this year compared to 5.3% last year.

Black freshmen were still more likely to fail a class in the first quarter than other students. 4.5% of the first quarter grades received by Black freshmen were F’s this year compared to 3.3% of the grades earned by Hispanic freshmen, 2.7% of grades received by multi-racial freshmen, 1.6% of the grades given to Asian and Pacific Islander freshmen and just 0.6% of the grades earned by white freshmen.

Asian or Pacific Islander freshmen were the most likely to receive an A grade this year. Fifty-nine percent of the grades received by Asian freshmen were A’s compared to 49.5% of the grades earned by non-Hispanic white students, 39.5% of the grades earned by multi-racial students, 37% of the grades of Hispanics and just 25.4% of the grades received by Black freshmen.

OPRF administrators say it is too soon to draw any conclusions about the impact of the revised freshman curriculum.

“We need to be cautious about drawing conclusions too early,” said Laurie Fiorenza, the assistant superintendent for student learning.

Ralph Martire, school board vice-president, agreed saying that one year of data is not very useful in evaluating the impact of the change in the freshmen curriculum. Martire said that OPRF needs at least three to five years of data to do a good evaluation of how the new freshman curriculum is doing.

“In a world that demands instant gratification this isn’t one of those areas you can get it,” Martire said. “System change takes a while and let’s not jump on any guns on evaluation and get false positives or false negatives. Let’s not get either of those. Let’s have an honest debate.”

Despite the elimination of college prep level in freshman English, History and Science classes at the freshman level Black freshmen at OPRF are still underrepresented in freshman Honors classes. That’s apparently because Black students are overrepresented in “Transitions” courses, which are designed for students needing extra help, and are on a slower pace than college prep classes. Some 10% of OPRF freshman are enrolled in “Transitions” level classes.

While Black students make up 21.7% of the freshman class at OPRF they make up only 14.8% of the freshmen enrolled in the freshman Honors Science class, 17.3% of the freshman World History Class and 16.3% of the freshman English class.

White students make 49.4% of the OPRF freshman class but white students make up 55.7% of the Honors freshman science class, 53.2% of freshman Honors History class, and 54.7% of the freshman Honors English class.

OPRF administrators surveyed a statistically significant number of freshmen enrolled in the restructured freshman classes to see what students think of their classes.

Ninety-one percent of the surveyed students either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that “[T]his class really makes me think and 86% of the students either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I’m really learning a lot in this class.”

Eighty-two percent of the surveyed students either agreed (60%) or strongly agreed (22%) with the statement “I feel a sense of belonging in this class.”

Seventy-three percent of students agreed (57%) or strongly agreed (16%)  they were challenged by the class in which they were surveyed. Seventy-eight percent of students said they had to work hard to do well and 67% said their class assessments contained difficult materials.

Administrators and teachers continue to review the freshman curriculum through regular conversations and team meetings.

“Teachers are aware of what they need and they are communicating those needs to us and even this week, we have been processing their information, looking at what do we need to change, what do we need to do, how are we going to respond,” Fiorenza told the school board.

 Fiorenza said she is working to provide professional development more in line with teacher needs.  

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