High Performing School gets rid of Honors Classes for equity's sake. Parents not happy.

FAUlty Gator

HR Legend
Oct 27, 2017
I'm actually stuck in the middle on this one. I can see the value in having honors classes but also can see how they could leave some kids left out that are capable, especially at a place where the overall school does a good job.

Barrington High School used to offer four levels of instruction in the core subjects. English, science and math had an honors track. Any student could take an honors English class.

In February 2020, the high school eliminated a slower-paced level, called conceptual, for all major subjects.

A year later, parents discovered that the high school removed honors English. All students except the lowest-performing were grouped into one English level and one social studies level. Students did, however, have an option to earn an honors designation in English by tackling an independent project.

Families were so distressed that they organized a protest, posting dozens of little flags around town hall last April.
“I’m a big believer that if it’s not broken, then don’t fix it.” said one parent who asked to be unnamed. “We are the educational gem of the state. The community has asked why. Honestly, it’s not been articulated. I’m horrified at the state of affairs.”

The theory behind “deleveling” subjects is it gives all students the opportunity to engage in rigorous instruction. Historically, students in this country have been tracked by their ability. Tracking has disproportionally hurt students of color, who have not been evenly represented in honors classes.

Kate Novak is a consultant who had helped several high-performing districts in Massachusetts – and Barrington – move to what she calls “one universal design for learning,” or one curriculum for students of varying abilities.

Universal design originated in districts, especially large urban ones, where students of color were tracked into lower-level classes, which led to fewer students having access to college-prep, honors and AP classes. The “universal design” is a way to offer equal access to a rigorous curriculum to traditionally under-represented groups.

In this setting, Novak said, students are typically broken into groups which work independently. The teacher spends most of her time with those who need more support.

“We design a class that works for everyone,” she said.

Although Novak is proud of the work Barrington has done, parents said the rollout has been a disaster. Teachers, they said, had little time to prepare, especially in the middle of a pandemic, and students were frustrated by the sudden changes.

One parent, Anna Amoiradaki, pulled her child out of Barrington this year and sent him to La Salle Academy in Providence.

“Honors classes allowed faster-paced students to be challenged,” she said. “None of the high-performing schools in Rhode Island have taken away honors. In the future, our graduates will not have high school transcripts competitive with their peers elsewhere.”

No other high school in Rhode Island has done this, according to Tim Ryan, lobbyist for the Rhode Island Association of School Superintendents.

Amoiradaki said her family has sacrificed to send their son to a private school.

“One-size-fits-all isn’t equitable for anyone,” she said.

Assistant Supt. Paula Dillon disagrees. She pointed out that 88% of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch are proficient in reading and writing, yet only .7% take honors level ELA courses.

“Ninety-seven percent of our students scored proficient and above in English language arts,” Dillon said, “and yet they were in separate classes. In our conceptual (lower-skills) classes we had students who had every intention of going to college but it wasn’t college-prep. We wanted to open the doors for them.”
Feb 9, 2013
This article is full of inconsistencies (anyone can take Honors English but minorities were underrepresented so we needed to fix that, new system gives everyone access to rigorous instruction but then says students work independently while teachers spend most of their time with students who are lagging, etc.)

Maybe there’s more to it, but sounds like nonsense.