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District Unveils Restructuring Proposal for High School

Proposal is complex and nuanced — across three areas of study.

South Orange-Maplewood School District staff presented recommendations for reconfiguring academic placements in the high school tonight.

Principal Dr. Lovie Lilly presented along with three academic supervisors in three fields of study — English Language Arts, Social Studies and Science.

Dr. Lilly first presented an historical analysis on the topic of de-leveling at the high school dating back to a report submitted in 1993 that recommended that the district "adopt driving principles including high standards for all students, equal access for all students ... and the removal of any institutional obstacles to equity and excellence."

"So this has been a long conversation," said Dr. Lilly.

Gary Pankiewicz, supervisor of ELA for grades 6-12; Christopher Preston, supervisor of social studies for grades 6-12; and Alan Levin, supervisor of science for grades 6-12 all presented in their areas. Supervisors revealed detailed and sometimes very nuanced recommendations.

Each supervisor seemed very excited about the proposed changes and offered examples of how recent changes that increased access to students at varying levels had resulted in improved outcomes. Besides collapsing levels in some cases, converting Level 4 to honors in others, and elevating and simplifying teaching and grading of electives, there would also be new criteria in some cases for placing students.

Regarding the proposed change to open electives to all students but teach them at an honors level, Pankiewicz explained, "This proposal says, 'Let's stop having different assessments for these students and provide supports for students.' Our department realizes that will be the biggest challenge."

To prepare students to meet the requirements of the honors course, Preston spoke of creating a summer course "Successful Strategies for Social Studies" for students entering grades 9-11. Likewise, Levin said there would be an additional "step up" class for rising 9th graders for summer 2012 to prepare more students to meet the prerequisites for the biology honors course.

The recommendations are:

English Language Arts

Current

  • 9th grade: Read 180, English I Level 2, English I Level 3, or English I Level 4.
  • 10th grade: English II level 2, English II Level 3, or English II Level 4.
  • 11th grade: American Lit Level 2, a multi-level elective course, or AP English Language.
  • 12th grade: English Essentials Level 2, a multi-level elective course, or AP English Literature.
  • 11th and 12th grades: There are 12 elective courses. All of them are heterogeneously grouped multi-level elective courses and open to all 11th and 12th grade students who are not placed in American Lit Level 2 (11th graders) or English Essentials Level 2 (12th graders).
  • 10th, 11th and 12th grades: Supplemental English courses are in addition to the English Language Arts course. Academic Placement is governed by the Academic Level Placement document.

Proposed

  • 9th grade: Read 180, English I double period, English I, English I Honors.
  • 10th grade: English II plus supplemental, English II, English II Honors.
  • 11th grade: American Lit plus supplemental, an elective course, or AP English Language.
  • 12th grade: English Essentials plus supplemental, an elective course, or AP English Language.
  • All elective classes taught and graded at Honors level.

Changes to criteria

  • 9th grade students who score above 205 on the NJASK 8 would not be placed in either Read 180 or English I with double period.
  • 11th and 12th grade electives would be honors and open to all students not placed in American Lit plus supplemental (11th grade) or English Essentials plus supplemental (12th grade).
  • Other criteria remain the same.

This proposal does not entail changes to the weighting of grades for the various ELA courses. All electives would be taught as well as weighted at the honors level.

Social Studies

Current

  • 9th grade: World History Level 2, World History Level 3, World History Level 4.
  • 10th grade: American History and Culture (for English Language Learners  year 1 of 2-year course), US History 1 Level 2, US History 1 Level 3, US History 1 Level 4, AP US History (1st year of 2-year AP course)
  • 11th grade: American History and Culture (for English Language Learners, year 2 of 2-year course), US History 2 Level 2, US History 2 Level 3, US History 2 Level 4, AP US History (2nd year of 2-year AP course), option to take additional elective or AP European History, AP Government & Politics
  • 12th grade. Electives.
  • Electives:
    • AP course (European History, Psychology, Government and Politics US, Government and Politics Comparatives). Criteria: teacher recommendation, grades.
    • There are 9 multilevel courses. All of them are heterogeneously grouped and open to all 11th and 12th graders.

Proposed

  • 9th grade: World History (for English Language Learners), Literacy strategies through World History, World History (taught at current honors level)
  • 10th grade: American History and Culture (for ELL — year 1 of 2-year course), Literacy Strategies through US History 1, US History 1 (taught at current honors level), AP US History (1st year of 2-year AP course)
  • 11th grade: American History and Culture (for ELL — year 2 of 2-year course), US History 2 (taught at current honors level), Literacy Strategies through US Hisotry 2, AP US History (2nd year of 2-year AP course), option to take additional elective.
  • 12th grade: electives
  • Electives
    • AP course (European History, Psychology, Government and Politics US, Government and Politics Comparatives). Criteria: teacher recommendation, grades
    • There would be 9 honors electives to choose from, heterogeneously grouped and open to all 11th and 12th graders.

Changes to criteria:

  • 9th grade students taking Read 180 or English I with double period would take Literacy strategies through World Hhistory. All other students would take World History.
  • 10th and 11th grade students who do not meet criteria to take AP US History would take US History I (10th grade) and US History 2 (11th grade).
  • 11th and 12th grade non-AP electives would be honors and open to all students
  • No changes to criteria for AP classes.

World History, US History 1 and US History 2 would be taught and weighted at the honors level.

Science (changes are limited to Grade 9 biology)

Current: Biology for English Language Learners (ELL), Biology Level 2, Biology Level 3, Biology Level 4

Proposed: Biology for ELL, Biology, Biology Honors

Changes to criteria: Ther criteria for Biology Honors would be the current Level 4 criteria. All other students would take Biology other than ELL students who would continue to take Biology for ELLs.

 

Patch will publish the full text of the proposal when it is forwarded by the School District.

Lindsay January 19, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Looks like a good plan.
John Davenport January 29, 2012 at 07:33 PM
At the same time, if I understand correctly, all the non-AP electives in upper grades will now combine levels 3 & 4 -- so there will be no Honors level in 11th grade Psychology, for example. This is not discussed in the summary sheet, and the administration is keeping quiet about it. But it is a big change, and not for the good. Social Studies has been pushing for this for years by experimenting with "mixed-level" electives in the high school (where students in level 3 and 4 are taught together but graded on different standards). This is not likely to result in more students at Columbia excelling such elective courses and going onto APs in those subjects. So there is more deleveling of Columbia HS in this proposal than first met the eye. Much also depends on how the proposal is implemented. As I and others have explained to delevelers a hundred times, the problems with middle school levels developed because the top level grew much too large. Once it gets over 30-35%, most people think their child should be that top level. When it is very small and clearly a highly accelerated class, there is little shame in not being with the top-performing 10% (say) in such a class. But the administration at Columbia HS is likely to push a lot of students into the Honors level, instead of keeping it small and highly advanced and making the middle level "college prep" into the largest level, well taught with rigorous standards. The same process is now likely to repeat itself at Columbia.
John Davenport January 29, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Well before the IB program can be introduced in the middle schools, sweeping changes are planned for fall 2012 across grades 7 through 10. The plan for the high school could have been worse -- for the core subjects in 9th and 10th grade will retain a (presumably small) honors level, just as I had proposed for 7th and 8th grade in May 2010. So language arts in 9th grade will go from Levels 2, 3, and 4 to "Grade level" (regular college prep) and "Honors level," and same in 10th grade. In 9th grade Biology, Levels 2 and 3 will be combined while leaving Honors Biology as is, and all the levels will remain in 10th grade Physics, which depends on math skills. However, there are things to worry about in this proposal. Social Studies/History (the department most in favor of maximum deleveling) is combining Levels 3 and 4 into the Honors level in 9th and 10th grade -- on the basis of one year's experience in deleveled 7th grade it seems. The district's way of renaming the levels masks this, and makes it harder to figure out what is being done. So this large change in Social Studies/History has not been much noticed, but it is clear in the district's summary sheet on the planned changes. The Social Studies supervisor argues that the bottom third of level 4 and the top third of level 3 often perform similarly. But this is only an argument for making a large middle level that is standard college prep, and leaving small levels on either end (remedial and honors).
John Davenport January 29, 2012 at 07:42 PM
Moreover, the district has stolidly resisted calls for the small compromise of allowing students in 7th and 8th grade to accelerate a grade in Science and Social Studies/History, which would have resulted in more students able to move into AP courses in this area earlier in high school – something especially needed given the History dept.’s insistence on making AP US History a two-year course, which crowed opportunities for World history studies. The district seems to think of middle school social studies more as an exercise in learning to love “difference” an communing together than as a content-intensive course of study to move students forward. Thus the high degree of repetition in Social Studies subject matter from grades 6 - 10. One question facing people in this community is whether we want to allow a few radicals in a single department in the high school who are more concerned about grinding their political axes than a rigorous sequence of courses to spend much of their effort acting as a political lobby and thus to determine the direction of the district as a whole.

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