The decision to “de-level” courses at Barrington High School is being met with resistance.
At last Thursday night’s school committee meeting, nearly a half-dozen parents in the district voiced their concerns and opposition to the curriculum shift, which started in 2017 with the elimination of level-three Social Studies courses at the high school. Level-three were the most advanced courses, filled with the school's top students. De-leveling refers to more mixed classrooms, with students at all abilities in the same groupings.
De-leveling, said school officials, will benefit all students. But parents who spoke out during the school committee meeting said the move will serve as a disservice to some of the district’s highest learners.
Two members of the Barrington School Committee also spoke out about the change. Erika Sevetson said she was less concerned about whether students would be prepared for the Advanced Placement exams, but was more worried that the elimination of the top-level courses would leave some students feeling less challenged and less engaged. However, Ms. Sevetson also said she agreed with the research that led officials to make the change.
School committee member Patrick McCrann said he has received more emails about “de-leveling” than any other topic. He said many parents were surprised by the change, and had no idea high school officials were planning the move toward de-leveling.
Mr. McCrann said some parents feel the school did not do enough to explain why some level-three courses are being eliminated. He said parents really care about their children and are concerned about their futures. He also said the school has lost the trust of some parents.
Testimony from the half-dozen or so parents who logged in to Thursday night’s school committee meeting echoed Mr. McCrann’s points.
Anna Amoiradaki said she grew up in Europe and attended a de-leveled high school in Greece. She said that approach to education failed her brother, and will fail everyone here in Barrington.
“You’re using our kids as guinea pigs right now,” Ms. Amoiradaki said. “We deserve better.
“It doesn’t work. It fails everyone.”
Ms. Amoiradaki said Barrington should instead be offering high school students an International Baccalaureate program. She said she knows some Sowams School parents who are already looking at putting their children in a Catholic school.
“A lot of parents are shopping for private schools,” she said. “And that’s unfortunate.”
Ms. Amoiradaki also mentioned a lack of communication with parents about the move toward de-leveling. Others agreed, stating that they had no idea Barrington High School was considering the move toward “de-leveling”, never-mind that it had already started the process.
Barrington resident Devyn Smith said one of his biggest concerns was with the lack of transparency exhibited by the high school. Mr. Smith said there was no communication to parents about the plan or the strategy behind the plan. He said the FAQ recently shared by the high school offered very little data that showed “de-leveling” would be a wise move for a town like Barrington.
Mr. Smith said parents have questions that deserve answers. He also said that “de-leveling” will make some parents think twice before buying a home in Barrington and moving their family here.
“They’ll stop buying homes here,” he said. “They’ll move.”
Barrington resident Ritzy McCarthy said she had no idea Barrington High School was eliminating some of its level-three courses, and only discovered the change when she sat down with her son to help him select his courses for next school year.
Ms. McCarthy said she has asked Barrington school officials for the longitudinal studies — 20-year studies or longer — that show how students at all levels are benefited by “de-leveling.”
“To this day I have not received the information I asked for,” she said.
“Frankly, it feels like we’re a bit of an experiment.”
Ms. McCarthy also said that “de-leveling” Social Studies courses is much different than “de-leveling” math. Currently, Barrington High School officials have not “de-leveled” any math courses, but starting next year, the high school will not offer an Honors ELA option for students.
Some people posted comments and questions into the message feature on the Zoom meeting. They said there has been very little communication about the “de-leveling”; very little stakeholder buy-in, and little data shared.
One question asked: “Can we please get data on how many students took Honors ELA last year vs. how many students are on track to earn honors designation this year?”
Another asked: “Can we get data from the student focus groups of what their experience has been with de-leveling?”
Barrington resident Emily Ford attended the school committee meeting and said she thought it was good that everyone seemed to have the same mission, the same goal to empower all students to excel. However, she said that empowering all students to excel means giving the district’s top learners every opportunity they deserve. She called for the ELA honors class to be re-instated.
Ms. Ford said the burden of proof rests on the district to show parents how “de-leveling” will benefit all students. She asked school officials to not dilute the educational opportunities for the district’s highest learners.
Two teachers at Barrington High School spoke in favor of “de-leveling” during the school committee meeting.
Kevin Blanchard, the head of the English department, said students could still achieve an honors designation in courses and that he has seen the benefits of heterogenous-grouped classrooms. He also spoke about how the Senior Project, which is a graduation requirement, was built upon the idea that all students can excel.
Steven Pickford, head of the Social Studies department, also shared praises for the change. Mr. Pickford said segregating students on their abilities does not push all students to excel. He also said that de-leveling does not eliminate the opportunity for students to receive honors distinction in their classes, and that work exhibited by students who earned that distinction was phenomenal.
Mr. Pickford said calling a course “Honors” just makes it sound like it is better. He also said that following the move to “de-level” Social Studies classes, students continue to score well on AP Social Studies exams, adding: “What’s our goal, to be a Five Factory? I don’t think so.” (A 5 is the highest score on an AP exam.)
He said that ability groupings do not make that big of a difference, and that the idea that honors classes do more does not hold water.
Barrington School Committee Chairwoman Gina Bae suggested that district administrators discuss ways to further engage with the community regarding “de-leveling.” She said she wants to give the high school staff an opportunity to meet the needs of the community and students’ parents.