Letter Sent February 12, 2021
We have received emails from some families asking us to explain our high school level system. Below, we have provided a Q & A format to answer specific questions regarding the process that we have used to de-level some courses, beginning in 2017-2018, and explaining plans, transcript implications, and related data.
Q. When did de-leveling begin at BHS?
A. BHS de-leveling began with the Social Studies department four years ago. Since 2017- 2018, BHS has not offered leveled classes in Social Studies. Feedback from students and teachers has been positive, with an increase in overall proficiency of 30% since that time. Students who have moved from our Social Studies courses into the AP courses have continued to perform at high levels, with most students receiving 4s and 5s across our AP Social Studies courses (US Government, US History, World History, and Macroeconomics).
During the 2019-2020 school year, we eliminated level 3 classes in Science and Math. During the 2020-2021 school year, we eliminated level 3 courses in English.
To offer more choice, voice, and challenge, BHS added an option for students to receive Honors Level Designation in 2020-2021 on their transcripts if they meet specific criteria. We had previously used such an honors designation only in our British Literature course and American Studies ELA course. The Honors transcript indicator is the same as the Honors transcript indicator for all classes and is recognized by colleges and universities.
During the 2021-2022 school year, English will have Honors Level Designations in all courses.
All courses will continue to have AP offerings in junior and senior years.
Q. How do Students Pursue an Honors Designation?
A. Each course provides the students with an overview of the requirements and options to achieve an honors designation that matches the unique needs of the course. Students also have the opportunity to present proposals to co-design their honors requirements. Opportunities include in-depth research, application of learning, analytical analysis, and impact projects to name a few. Our leadership team in each department will provide a clear and consistent message to parents and students in each course regarding the expectations and processes. We will have additional time for Freshman Orientation in September 2021, and our leadership team along with the school counseling department will provide an opportunity for students to learn more about the Honors Level Designation.
Q. Why did BHS move to a de-leveled system?
A. Research, shared later in this document, demonstrates that students in de-leveled classes perform better academically and socially. They are more engaged, have more in-depth and richer knowledge, and are empowered to excel to high levels.
In analyzing our mission and vision of a student, we determined that we were not achieving our commitment to empower all students to excel. We tracked students based on their schedules. Not all students were challenged or empowered to high levels across all courses. In eliminating tracking, adding honors designations, and a pathway option at the high school, we can provide more significant opportunities to engage all students in pursuing their passions or in-depth exploration of areas of interest.
De-leveling builds our community of learners, allowing for meaningful interaction and connections. Social-Emotional research also suggests that a collaborative and inclusive learning environment builds empathy, self-confidence, efficacy, and greater well-being for all students. When schools set high expectations for all students, students stretch to achieve those expectations. The opposite is true when schools set low expectations.
Q. Will all classes be de-leveled in the future?
A. As noted earlier, BHS will continue to offer AP courses. ELA and Social Studies courses will continue to be de-leveled. We are currently studying the best approach to de-level some math and science courses. In ELA and Social Studies, all students take the same 9th and 10th-grade courses. In math and science, students follow different progressions. For example, 9th graders may enter Algebra I, Geometry, or Algebra II.
As we are making incremental changes, we do not anticipate the opportunity to further de-level in math and science for 2021-2022. During 2021-2022, the teachers and leadership team will continue to engage in professional learning and data review to determine the next steps, if any. The next steps will then be communicated to families as decisions are made.
Q. What communication has been provided to families, and what communication will be available to families in the future?
A. The course levels have been communicated annually at the grade 8 parent orientation event at the high school that occurs in February. The first communication occurred in 2017 leading to the course selection for 9th-grade Social Studies courses for the 2017-2018 school year. The course levels are outlined in the annual program of studies. In addition, family and student forums were held as part of our equity review with XQ. During this audit, families, students, and educators also provided feedback on tracking through a survey. Finally, communication occurred through presentations at the School Committee. Moving forward, the high school will send regular updates to families and students through the Highlights newsletter and it will be an agenda item on the School Improvement Team, through which student-voice is represented.
Q. What has the training been?
A. Teachers have received training on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the district and through the coaching of an expert trainer, Dr. Katie Novak. The coaching and professional development have increased over the past two years to include de-leveling strategies. It is important to note that this process began five years ago, with implementation starting four years ago in the Social Studies department.
Q. Will the change in leveling impact class ranking?
A. BHS does not rank students and has not in over 25 years.
Q. How will GPA weighting change?
A. BHS does not weight the GPA and has not in over 25 years.
Q. How will this impact the selection of valedictorian?
A. BHS does not recognize a valedictorian. For Graduation and Friendship Service, all students are encouraged to write essays, which are then blind-selected by a committee. Four essays are selected to be read by the students at each event.
Q. Is there a move to eliminate AP courses at BHS?
A. No. In fact, with 19 AP courses, we have more AP offerings than high schools our size. Also, we are considering adding two additional courses: AP Capstone and AP Computer Science.
Q.Is there cost savings or an increase involved in de-leveling?
Q. Did BHS receive grant funding from XQ to de-level classes?
A. No. Funding through the XQ grant provided for flexible furniture and to plan a freshman academy to begin a pilot group in September 2021.
Q. What is the research behind de-leveling?
A. There is a growing body of research on this topic. We have included some below https://tntp.org/publications/view/student-experiences/the-opportunity-myth https://ncd.gov/sites/default/files/NCD_Segregation-SWD_508.pdf https://nepc.colorado.edu/newsletter/2013/05/options-tracking
This report published by the National Council on Disabilities sums up the research on inclusion (p.37-40). Pg. 41 introduces Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a framework for inclusion.
Q. What does the data at BHS show?
In addition to the growth and high levels of excellence on the AP, SAT, and ACT assessments included in the reports above, we have seen a dramatic decrease in the gap on internal proficiency assessments and standardized measures like Fastbridge while experiencing an overall increase in students who are performing at high levels.
Joseph D. Hurley, Principal
BHS Levels Update - February 17, 2021
In response to followup questions, we want to take this opportunity to provide additional information. We want to stress that the changes increase access for all students while providing high expectations, a high-quality curriculum, and high-quality instruction unique to Barrington.
The move to de-level began in 2017 in response to our mission To Empower All Students to Excel. At that time, and during our work with XQ, BHS held forums for parents and students regarding our course structures.
In 2017, we had fewer course opportunities for students to achieve an honors designation. Specifically, in 2017, students had no honors options in history. All students can now opt to earn an honors credit for Social Studies courses in grades 10-12. Also, students did not have the option for an honors designation in American Studies and now can achieve an honors designation there. Additionally, the honors designation has increased in the English curriculum. Students now can receive honors credit in grade 9 Language and Literature, grade 10 American Studies or American Literature, grade 11 World Literature, and grade 12 World Literature.
Honor’s designation moves beyond an additional assignment or project. Academic rigor and high expectations are interwoven throughout the course. An example of honors-level work in English this year included an in-depth literary analysis. Students were required to read and research specific literary genres and present their analysis as a defense to their class. In social studies, students examined a history theme over time and demonstrated how it had influenced America today. Students were given a variety of options to present and defend their learning. In both examples, the learning was completed over time, was profoundly motivating, generated engaging discourse, and connected to higher-order thinking skills and deep learning competencies. These assignments mirror the research and application required by colleges and universities as integral components of their coursework. As such, preparation for AP and college success are core to the programs.
All students are eligible to take an AP course in junior and senior year at no cost and without prerequisites. If students opt to take the AP assessment and need assistance, BHS has scholarships available. With honors designation in history, all students can now take courses for honors designation instead of AP, if that is their choice.
Since we began working to become a more inclusive learning environment, BHS has realized gains on SATs and AP assessments. Our goal has been to achieve scores higher than 600 on the SAT, and we have hit that mark in literacy and math since 2017. We had not exceeded 600 before 2016. Also, since 2017 we have remained at average scores of about 3.9% across the Social Studies tests, with an average of 65% of the tests achieving a 4 or a 5 (World History, US History, Government, and Macroeconomics) with 300-320 tests taken in social studies on an annual basis. It is important to note that the percentage of students who test annually has increased since before 2017.
Although noted in our original communication, we want to assure you that we are not eliminating AP options. We are considering the addition of two more classes in the future. Specifically, we are considering adding the second AP Computer Science course and AP Capstone course.
Please reach out to your child’s school counselor (guidance) or principal with specific questions regarding your child’s success and course selections or questions about course levels.
Joseph D. Hurley, Principal