The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Detriments of deleveling

The English department is currently planning to de-level the 9th grade English classes for the 2025-26 school year, pending school committee approval. Ninth through 12th grade is supposed to be a time when people are academically challenged in a way that pushes them to reach their full potential and showcases their capabilities. De-level yet another 9th grade class, and this concept is smashed for many, postponed until sophomore year.

Currently, the middle schools in Brookline have only one level of classes offered for every subject, and I have experienced that the way the class is taught is often catered towards those who require lower-level academic classes. While this system benefits those in need, the students who pass these classes without difficulties are excited to get to move up to more difficult classes in high school. Although the thought behind de-leveling 9th grade classes was to level the playing field, this has been proven unsuccessful in the experimental 9th grade WHISP class, according to data sent to me by Gabe McCormick, the Senior Director of Teaching and Learning for Secondary Education and data previously published by The Cypress in their article titled “The persistent disparity in course leveling.”

One argument that has been made in favor of de-leveling the classes, which is very important to address, is that some minority groups are less likely to be recommended for honors-level courses in 9th grade than white students are. The idea of de-leveling was to bring the whole grade to the same level and take away the bias causing teachers to recommend some minority groups to the standard classes. So to test this idea, the school created an unleveled history class for 9th grade students called WHISP (World History, Identity, Status & Power). This class was implemented, and after multiple years, research shows that the number of students of color recommended for honors-level courses for sophomore year did not change in a significant way. This problem is rooted in many different things and should be addressed, but the baseline is that while it was a good effort, de-leveling WHISP did not level the playing field but instead it limited other students from taking the honors level classes for yet another year, forcing them to remain in a deleveled class.

I was quite excited for high school and was especially looking forward to being academically challenged in a way that I had been lacking in the classes offered at the middle school. Now, being a freshman and taking the honors classes I had been excited about, I can confidently say that I am academically challenged in the way school should be: classes do not feel like an easy A. The opportunity to take honors classes shows that the high school understands that students are at different levels and need different classes to allow them to reach their full potential, something that deleveling will change. Putting a student who belongs in an honors class into an unleveled class takes learning opportunities away from the student, restricting them to what is taught in the unleveled classes when they could be excelling at an honors level.

As mentioned above, while taking away the honors level courses negatively affects students who would take them, it also could negatively affect the students in the standard courses. Proponents of de-leveling argue that it promotes fairness and inclusivity by eliminating academic tracking and ensuring that all students have access to the same curriculum. However, this one-size-fits-all approach fails to acknowledge the diverse learning needs and abilities of students. I have often found that teachers work to find a middle ground between an honors and a standard level, which brings difficulties for both groups of students: those who need a standard level and those who need honors.

In addition to teachers finding a middle ground in learning levels for students in de-leveled classes, I have also had teachers maintain different requirements for students planning to take honors the following year. Teachers will assign work to the class and state that any students who would like to be recommended for honors the next year must also complete extra work to receive an A on the project. I have found that this happens throughout the entire school year and not just at the end when teachers make their final recommendations. It’s unfair that students taking the same course must do extra work to get the same grade as someone else simply because they wish to take a more accelerated course the next year. While this partially addresses the issue of higher-leveled students being more challenged in de-leveled classes, it is unfair. I can easily see both these problems being fixed when students are placed in classes that cater to their educational needs and levels rather than placing all students in one.

In addition, removing honors-level courses puts the students at a disadvantage from students at other schools taking a full schedule of honors classes. Students have no control over this disadvantage, making it unfair that they are learning at a lower level. Additionally, it’s important to recognize how this lower level of learning affects the students in a longer-term area. Introducing and maintaining rigor in 9th grade courses is essential for fostering academic excellence and preparing students for future success in their high school careers and post-high school. Advanced coursework provides students with the intellectual stimulation and critical thinking skills necessary for college and career readiness. Advanced courses cultivate a culture of excellence and achievement sooner by challenging students to think deeply, solve complex problems, and engage with rigorous academic content.

Despite the numerous drawbacks to de-leveling 9th grade courses, it’s important to note that de-leveling would bring forth new social interactions that could not have been possible without the merging of academic levels. While this is a good point, it is also achieved through the already de-leveled WHISP class and extracurriculars such as clubs or sports.

Overall, although in theory de-leveling all the 9th grade classes is a good solution to a problem we are facing, in implementation, it is not. It is greatly restricting those who want a higher level of classes and would work as a barrier to achieving true academic potential. In addition, while the students who take the standard courses would not be affected greatly by this, many students would be negatively affected. I believe this could set students back behind other schools in the country that offer more advanced classes, taking away learning opportunities and pushing back when students learn to engage in true academic rigor. By maintaining a range of course options and providing targeted support where needed, schools can ensure that all students receive a high-quality education that meets their individual needs and aspirations.

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