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Why Should We “Level Up” 9th Grade English Language Arts Classes at CRLS?

Leveling Up“Do students differ in talents and achievement? They do. But when those observed differences are reinforced by track placement and grouping practices, and children then internalize those differences, learning opportunities become limited for all but the elite student. The talents of late bloomers go undiscovered, and the rewards of hard work and diligent study are never realized.” (Burris 2014, 20). Our community must address student achievement in terms of equity, access, and high expectations. In particular, given CRLS’ persistent achievement gap, and the disproportionate demographic representation in HN and AP level courses, the school must question its established practices. In doing so, three key questions emerge:

  1. Why, at the start of a student’s experience at CRLS, do we choose to level and group students for instruction in classes they all have to take?
  2. What does this practice say about our belief in students’ potential, especially when they have not yet taken a course at CRLS?
  3. What influence does this grouping have on students' later instructional placement and educational opportunities?

Leveling UpWe believe that having the biggest impact on individual student beliefs about their capacity and achievement means rethinking the beginning of the high school experience. Ninth grade represents the school’s best opportunity to help students challenge their understanding of their own academic and social capacity. The school needs to take action at this level to reverse individual and institutional patterns related to student achievement. At this point, the impact of the CP/ HN splits at grade 9 does more to reinforce negative individual, and group concepts. These concepts regarding achievement, self worth, and capacity start in 9th grade and can adversely impact a student for the remainder of their CRLS experience.

There is already one heterogeneously grouped class in 9th grade and ample supports to assist students in taking challenging courses that have yielded promising results. CRLS believes that 9th grade is time where CRLS can have the greatest achievement impact in supporting the achievement of all students.

  1. 9th grade Physics course is heterogeneously grouped and most students meet the MA DESE graduation requirement by passing the Physics MCAS.

  2. 9th grade AVID classes support selected 9th grade students and help them develop skills to be successful in HN and AP level CRLS classes, which students are expected to enroll in during their time at CRLS.

  3. The Math and ELA “Move Up” programs demonstrate that there are a number of students with capacity to do honors-level work from the outset of their CRLS experience that are not identified in the course selection process.

  4. Community partner organizations, including Enroot, Rise Up, Workforce, and Upward Bound, begin to work with students during 9th grade. This provides an opportunity to collaborate and develop more wrap-around support for students at the start of their CRLS experience and further represents an opportunity for the community to change students’ concepts of their individual achievement and capacity. 

Sources Cited
Burris, Carol Corbett. On The Same Track: How Schools Can Join the Twenty-First-Century Struggle Against Resegregation. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014.
Hattie, John. Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement. London and New York: Routledge, 2009.
Leek, Gideon and Emma Ramsdell, Devonte Richards, Chorobi Sagna & Sarah Whiteman. “Recommendations to Close the Achievement Gap at CRLS.” STARs Peer Leadership and Community Action. Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, Cambridge, MA. 25 January 2015.
Oakes, Jeannie. Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985.