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The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

This is why ninth grade courses need to be deleveled

Having taken both deleveled WHISP and leveled World History Honors, Golda Mark found that the deleveled course fostered a more collaborative environment.
Having taken both deleveled WHISP and leveled World History Honors, Golda Mark found that the deleveled course fostered a more collaborative environment.

For me, eighth grade was a whirlwind of high expectations and high grades. I constantly got grades in the high 90’s, even if it came at the expense of my mental health. At my school in Canada, there was no room for failure. This idea got so rooted into my brain that whenever I would make a mistake, I would cry. The suffocating pressure caused me to be one of the best in the class and the person everyone would rely on for answers. So, when I came back to the United States, I assumed everything would be the same.

Then, I got my first B-minus in 9th grade honors English. I quickly learned that high school is harder than 8th grade (I know, big shocker), and throughout the year, I slowly realized that I was not going to get the highest scores in the class in such a big school. It was a hard transition that a deleveled course could have made easier. Even though I was pushed, a deleveled course would have exposed me to different ideas and challenged me. Overall, this is why I believe that 9th grade classes should be deleveled; deleveling brings more opportunities to all students and not just the ones that get recommended for opportunities. Opportunities such as getting easier into higher level classes and being put on learning tracks that feel correct. It isn’t right or fair that only some kids get opportunities that all kids should get.

The Public Schools of Brookline is piloting deleveled 9th grade courses because some minorities are underrepresented in honors-level classes. For example, in my year, only 7.14 percent of African American students were recommended for Geometry Advanced, compared to the 28.47 percent of White students who were recommended for the same course. The idea behind deleveling is that by having all students take the same classes freshman year, every student is on the same page for sophomore year, mitigating racial disparities that developed throughout earlier years of education.

In reality however, data from the deleveled WHISP course at the High School shows that deleveling 9th-grade history courses didn’t work to fix the racial disparities. Racial disparities persist in 10th-grade history even after deleveled 9th-grade history.

Clearly, the issue runs much deeper than 8th grade teacher recommendations. Discrimination in schools is such a complex and deep-rooted topic that I can not fully cover in this op-ed, but I would like to acknowledge it all the same. It is very present and affecting students in the Brookline school system. While there is no quick solution to this major problem, if done right, deleveling 9th-grade classes has the potential to help us start to address racial disparities at school.

Deleveling would promote independence within a curriculum. In my experiences in a leveled class, all the work has been fed to me. The teacher gave me the worksheet, I filled it out, handed it in, and got a new one. It led me to rely on the teacher rather than taking responsibility for my own learning. A concern often raised by Brookline parents is that students won’t be challenged in deleveled classes. But, in my opinion, it’s the other way around for if a student wants or needs more of a challenge, they can go talk to the teacher and take it upon themselves to be challenged.

Recently, I spoke about deleveling with world history and US history teacher Sydney Hou. She had a unique set of experiences having come to the High School from CRLS, a deleveled school. She mentioned that the feeling of standard classes being labeled as dumb or incapable in comparison to the Honors level classes was avoided in the deleveled class. She said the fact that her former school had one level and removed invisible caps on the amount that students could learn in class.

Taking Honors US History this year– after having taken deleveled WHISP last year– it feels like more people in my class have similar learning styles and work ethics to me. That can be beneficial because it can be easier to work with people like yourself, but it also hinders the capabilities of a group. Too many of the same learning styles in one group felt like all the ideas being said are exactly what I wanted to say causing me to have nothing to contribute to the conversation. For example in WHISP, there were many different students with different perspectives which made it feel like more of an open space to share ideas and talk. This open environment made WHISP a better experience for me.

But deleveling will only work if we do it right. That means more learning options need to be worked into the curriculum. Deleveled classes would serve different people with different learning styles, leading to a lot of different ways for students to engage with the curriculum. If they were all expected to learn with one learning style, it would render the deleveling less useful. This is why multiple learning styles should be worked into the curriculum. My personal experience with WHISP wasn’t positive because there was a lot of reading, taking notes and answering questions, which isn’t how my brain learns. I need discussions and visual data to help challenge my brain.

Overall, I think the most important thing to remember is that deleveling is not about bringing the curriculum to the standard level. No student would benefit from that. Deleveling is about bringing the level up. I believe that if the curriculum is brought to between the honors level and the advanced level, students will rise to meet the challenge. Research has shown that students who are met with higher expectations have higher motivation and interest in lessons, as well as greater academic success. The curriculum will not be watered down.

These ideas are what I think should be done when Brookline High School works on deleveling their 9th-grade courses. Deleveling is beneficial to provide all students with equal learning opportunities and should be done carefully to render the experience beneficial to everybody.

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