Black students in the recently completed first semester at Oak Park and River Forest High School than they did one year ago. This comes in the first year of OPRF’s revised freshman curriculum which mostly eliminates the College Prep track, which was a mid-level or average track, and now puts most freshmen in Honors level classes.

In the first semester 21.8% of the grades Black freshmen earned were A’s compared to 26.6% in 2021-22 according to a report presented to the OPRF school board at its Feb. 9 Committee of the Whole meeting.  Black OPRF freshmen also earned slightly fewer B grades with the new curriculum this year dropping to 28% this year from 28.9% in 2021-22.

Black freshmen received more C grades this year jumping to 33.1% of all grades compared to 27.7% a year ago. D grades for Black freshmen decreased slightly dropping to 11% this year from 11.3% a year ago, but F grades for Black freshmen increased to 4.6% this year up from 3.5% a year ago.

Assistant Superintendent for Student Learning Laurie Fiorenza told the school board that the grade distribution this year was not a cause for concern noting that many more students are taking more rigorous Honors classes this year.

“When we look at the semester one grade distribution it is consistent with last’s year’s grade distribution, with slight shifts, which is expected given that we have a larger number of students in the Honors courses,” Fiorenza said. “But by and large most of our students are passing courses with grades of C’s or better across all of the races.”

The grade distribution for white freshmen did not change very much with white freshmen earning slightly more A’s, 52.6%, this year than last year, 51.5%. The percentage of B’s earned by white students stayed the same at 31.3%, while white students got slightly more C’s, 13.2%, compared to last year, 12.5%. Failing grades by white students dropped by 1.2% to just 0.4% this year.

Asian or Pacific Islander students once again received the highest grades of all racial and ethnic groups although Asian freshmen earned significantly fewer A’s, 60.3%, than one year ago when 77.1% of all grades for Asian freshmen were A’s. The number of Asian students at OPRF is relatively low so the report advises interpreting the data for Asian students with caution. Corresponding with the drop in A’s for Asian freshmen this year the number of B’s received by Asian freshmen rose significantly this year increasing to 34.5% this past semester up from just 14.3% last year. C’s accounted for only 3.4% of the grades earned by Asian freshmen while D’s accounted for only 1.7% of grades Asian freshmen earned this year. Apparently, no Asian freshman at OPRF received an F last semester.

Grades for Hispanic OPRF freshman didn’t change much this year. Both this year and last year 38.7% of grades Hispanic freshmen earned were A’s. Hispanic freshmen received slightly fewer B’s, 36% this year, and C’s, 16.7%, this year compared to last year dropping 1.9% and 1.8% respectively. The percentage of D’s and F’s received by Hispanic freshmen increased this year to 4.8% and 3.6% respectively compared to 3.3% and 1.6% last year.

School board member Ralph Martire repeated the point he made a few months ago when first quarter freshman grade distributions were presented to the board that it is much too soon to draw any reliable conclusions about the impact of the revamping of the freshman curriculum. 

“We as a board going forward have to manage the expectations of the community that just because we changed the program on freshman curriculum in year one, in year three we’re not going to magically see an elimination of outcome gaps,” Martire said. “What we’re hoping to see along the way is some incremental progress as we monitor implementation to ensure that it’s being done with fidelity with best practices.”

Overall 44.4% of the grades issued to OPRF freshmen last semester were A’s, 31.2% were B’s, 17.6% were C’s, 4.6% were D’s and 1.6% were F’s.

Fiorenza said that the revamped, mostly Honors, curriculum is putting a lot of stress on teachers as they try to meet the needs of a wide range of students in the same classroom.

“There are still challenges meeting the needs of a wide range of learners,” Fiorenza said. 

Teachers are working long hours trying to develop lesson plans to meet the needs of all of their students.

“So as a result of that the administration is prioritizing the monitoring and providing enough support for teachers so they maintain that healthy balance of work and home life which is challenging given this new initiative and the amount of the time that they’re spending, really working on this,” Fiorenza said.

Fiorenza said she is working to develop professional development opportunities to help teachers deal with the challenges presented by the new curriculum.

“We’re going to continue to listen to our teachers and create those opportunities for them to get the time they need to collaborate and the professional learning that they need around differentiation and meeting the needs of a range of learners,” Fiorenza said.

Fiorenza said she will probably request a reduction in class size for sophomore classes next year to reduce the burden on teachers. Some sophomore class sizes could be reduced to approximately 24 students per class from the current 28.

“Four students makes a huge difference in a classroom,” said school board member Gina Harris, who is herself an educator.

A major goal of the revamped freshman curriculum is to get more Black students on the Honors track. Fiorenza said that incomplete data from course registration for next year indicates that approximately 40 more students than a year ago have signed up to take Honors classes as sophomores next year.

“There are increases, are they hundreds of kids, no, but 40 more is 40 more so that’s encouraging,” Fiorenza said adding that she does not yet have a demographic breakdown of the students signing up for Honors classes as sophomores.

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