District announces curriculum restructuring

Camille Grant, Staffer

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In late August, the district released plans to restructure the freshmen curriculum. Freshmen class offerings, with the exception of math, will no longer offer an honors options. This change will be implemented in 2022 school year — assuming the approval of the board of education, who will later vote to approve the plan. 

The new curriculum will offer freshmen the opportunity to earn their honors designation. By completing this optional assessment, students will earn honors designation on their transcript, per approval of the teacher. This system is already integrated into the Models of Science classes and several English electives. Math classes will not be detracked due to preexisting initiatives towards integrated sequencing, per director of counseling Lynda Parker. The support track will also continue to exist.

In English and history, there will be more standardization — a few of the students’ readings will be selected by the department, though teachers will have agency. These curricular updates are similar to those at Evanston Township High School (ETHS), who implemented a freshmen earned honors program nine years ago. The freshmen English and history departments have a cohesive curriculum, featuring “key texts,” like Romeo and Juliet. The curriculum, says Peter Bavis, ETHS associate superintendent, is highly structured. To keep consistent, all teachers grade using same “non-negotiable” rubric. The approach ETHS took to earned honors is slightly different.

Each year, ETHS freshmen can opt in to six major assignments — three first semester, three second semester. In their sophomore English seminar, which is also detracked, students may submit an honors portfolio to receive credit. Parker says that the OPRF earned honors curriculum will also be unified across class sections, but the specifics of the plan are still being worked out. Parents will be able to see a pilot curriculum next spring.  

“It’s not just putting the kids together, it’s having high standards for everyone, making it a safe environment,” said Bavis. All existing ETHS teachers have been given extensive equity training, and new teachers partake in a three year induction program that includes equity workshops. OPRF will also offer professional development opportunities, where Parker says teachers can enhance their understanding of equity, inside and outside the school. 

Additionally, a psychometrician partnered with the teachers to learn how to write equitable and helpful exams. After the implementation of the program, ETHS parents were able to understand their children’s exact areas of need.

As for their results, ETHS saw a 33 percnt increase in unique Black AP registrants, a 68 percent increase in unique Hispanic and Latino AP registrants, and a 17 percent increase in unique white AP registrants. In seven years, they went from 65 percent to 78.1 percent of their students scoring at least a 3 on their AP exams. (For comparison: 84.5 percent of OPRF students scored at least a 3 in 2017.) For a program younger than a decade, this growth is fairly substantial.

Last year, OPRF underwent a comprehensive analysis of the freshmen curriculum, led by associate superintendent Gregory Johnson. He advises the district superintendent on all teaching and learning processes within the school. Johnson worked with division heads to gather data trends from the PSAT, grades, and enrollment. 

Most of the OPRF freshmen score within the same range, regardless of track. This exam is administered twice, in October of their eighth grade and freshman year. On the PSAT 8/9 reading and writing, 95 percent of honors freshmen scored within 470 to 700, and 69 percent of college preparatory freshmen scored within that same range. 

These 219 freshmen received scores corresponding to honors English but decided to enroll in college preparatory. 18 percent of this group ended up earning a C or below in English. This signals a deeper, systemic issue, which is what OPRF is trying to address, said Johnson.

Parker says knowledge is at the root of inequitability. The prior honors system allowed parents to talk to teachers about honors class enrollment. “Leaving it for a parent to bring up isn’t as equitable,” Parker says. Eliminating honors produces an honors placement system that isn’t dependent on parents, but instead on first-year performance.

“This is really all about access,” Johnson said. “Let’s be specific, we’re talking about our black and brown students being more successful in higher-level learning environments.” With the curriculum restructure, Johnson hopes to narrow the opportunity gap. First, however, the plan will be taken to vote.