Barrington RI schools eliminate honors classes, parents want them back


Category:  News & Politics

Via:  vic-eldred  •  2 weeks ago  •  11 comments

By:   Linda Borg (The Providence Journal)

Barrington RI schools eliminate honors classes, parents want them back
In the highest-performing school district in Rhode Island, parents are in a tizzy over eliminating honors classes.

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

BARRINGTON — In the highest-performing school district in Rhode Island, parents are in a tizzy over eliminating honors classes, arguing that it hurts students who are exceptional as well as those struggling to master the material.

Embedded in the controversy is a deeper complaint that school officials have not done a good job explaining their rationale for combining three levels of instruction into one in core subjects and, as of Friday, eliminating the honors designation in English and social studies.

Even school committee Chairwoman Gina Bae acknowledges that the school department has done a poor job of communicating with parents.

"I understand people's frustration and level of distrust," she said. "Communication has been very poor. I hope to get some answers."

First, a little history.

'Deleveling' classes leads to protests

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."

The honors distinction, she said, offered students a deeper dive into a particular topic, one that encouraged independent study, an appropriate preparation for college. She said many parents said they liked the immersive project.

Parents feel blindsided

Parents said the final straw was an email they received late March 11, a Friday, from Principal Joseph Hurley saying that the honors designation in English and social studies had been eliminated. The notice arrived just four days before registration began for next year's classes.

Parents said they were blindsided. The School Improvement Team, composed of parents, teachers and students, overwhelmingly voted to keep some form of honors designation. (Advanced Placement classes are available to juniors and seniors.)

Dillon, who was the brainchild behind this program, said the SIT team and Hurley were asked to come up with a plan to submit to the School Committee. She wasn't part of that discussion.

"I think we should revisit it," Dillon said Wednesday.

"Now there is no ability to earn honors-level credit for college," said Shelli Edgar. "I encourage my children to push themselves."

"None of our concerns have been addressed," one parent said. "This is a much larger issue about trust, about collaboration and the lack of the school committee calling out any of this."

Parents fear that math and science will be the next subjects to be consolidated. If that happens, Edgar said she will abandon the Barrington schools.

Dillon said, however, that math and science are not on the table: "For the next five years, we're not touching anything."

'Very little clarity'

Regardless of his own opinions about honors classes, School Committee member Patrick McCrann said in a Facebook post Wednesday, "To this day, there has been very little clarity as to where the idea came from, who is driving it, how success is measured, and where it (and our students) are headed. Despite months of questions, there is still confusion. In my short time here in town, I've never seen anything like it from our incredible schools."

Stay tuned. The School Committee has scheduled a meeting Monday at 7 p.m. to discuss this topic.

Linda Borg covers education for The Journal.


jrDiscussion - desc
Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Vic Eldred    2 weeks ago

This is about "Equity" - the equalization of results. This means keeping students, regardless of their learning abilities in the same class. We send our children to school in the hopes that they will excel, however we have this evil ideology that has metastasized recently.

Professor Principal
1.1  devangelical  replied to  Vic Eldred @1    2 weeks ago


Professor Principal
1.1.1  Tessylo  replied to  devangelical @1.1    2 weeks ago


Jeremy Retired in NC
PhD Guide
1.2  Jeremy Retired in NC  replied to  Vic Eldred @1    2 weeks ago
This means keeping students, regardless of their learning abilities in the same class.

And that is where problems will start.  Those who understand what is being taught and are ready to move on to the next, more difficult curriculum will get bored because they are held back by those that don't understand it and require the extra attention of the faculty.

Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
1.2.1  seeder  Vic Eldred  replied to  Jeremy Retired in NC @1.2    2 weeks ago

The only result that will be equalized is the suffering.

Jeremy Retired in NC
PhD Guide
1.2.2  Jeremy Retired in NC  replied to  Vic Eldred @1.2.1    2 weeks ago

Which will not benefit anybody.

Professor Principal
1.3  devangelical  replied to  Vic Eldred @1    2 weeks ago

Senior Guide
2  Snuffy    2 weeks ago

I figure someone will come along and post that dumb picture of three people trying to watch a baseball game over a fence where the first frame has them all standing on one box and the shortest one still cannot see over the fence,  and the second frame where the shortest one has 2 boxes to stand on so that he can now see over the fence,   and show that this is what they mean by equity.

The reply against seeds like this are always so simplistic.  If you have to go to a doctor do you want to see a person who excelled in school and after, worked hard and learned their craft or do you want to see someone who was "helped" thru the courses and tests and promoted to the white coat to satisfy some form of equity?  Seems a simple enough question...

Professor Principal
2.1  Tessylo  replied to  Snuffy @2    2 weeks ago

That's not how it works in Medical school.  People aren't 'helped' through their courses and tests and promoted to the white coat to satisfy some form of equity?"

Senior Guide
2.1.1  Snuffy  replied to  Tessylo @2.1    2 weeks ago

It's really too bad you "misunderstood" my comment.  

Greg Jones
Professor Guide
3  Greg Jones    2 weeks ago

Equal outcomes require equal efforts. Some people simply are more intelligent and driven to succeed than others. It doesn't have anything to do with race or social status.Just another attempt to dumb down America.


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