Editorial: Detracking? Been there, done that

On Oct. 28, the D200 Board of Education finalized a policy that would detrack all English, science, history, and world language courses for freshmen.
While some may see the policy as a new, creative step toward closing the racial achievement gap, those of us who went to the Oak Park public middle schools are already familiar with this type of curriculum that has not fixed the gap in our opinion.
At Percy Julian and Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, there are no honors or accelerated English, social studies, world language, and science courses. In other words, it’s a similar tracking system to that of the one that will be implemented for freshmen at OPRF.
When students graduate from Oak Park public middle schools, the achievement gap still remains. On the 2019 PSAT 8/9, non-Hispanic white students scored over 100 points higher than non-Hispanic black students in both math and evidence-based reading and writing. If the middle school’s tracking system had produced ideal results, disparities would not be so apparent when students enter OPRF. To us students, this has been an already attempted approach to tracking that comes up short in addressing the achievement gap.
Some advocates for detracking at OPRF have argued that this policy has been successful at other schools, such as Evanston Township High School. Although Evanston has some similar traits to OPRF, the Oak Park middle schools keep more variables constant. Why would we look for an example of detracking outside of our community when there are two long-running ones with the same students that go to the high school?
Thinking back to middle school, some of the discussions or activities in the detracked classes were dominated by just a handful of high-achieving students. While some advocates for detracking say detracked classes can help build communities, the images of some struggling students consistently not participating have stuck with us and make us think differently.
Furthermore, the transition from middle school to high school is overwhelming enough. Having students placed in detracked classes that the district says will be of the same rigor as current honors classes could add to the stress of some already struggling.
Also, it became easy for the rigor of the courses to be a mere average of the students’ ability. As a result, students who exceed a course’s expectations would not have a way to improve upon their skill sets.
At OPRF, detracking was approved without surveying students. Without input from those most impacted by the change, the district missed out on critical aspects of the policy only students would be aware of.
If there had been more student input into the detracking policy, we feel next year’s freshmen might not have to deal with the same policy that came up short at the middle schools. From our perspective as students, we have been there, done that.

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