The Kingston City School District is implementing changes to its honors classes that aim to increase participation in those classes by students of color and special education students.
The first change would involve prioritizing those students when making schedules for 8th grade advanced placement classes for this fall’s classes.
The second change would be a pilot program that would allow ninth grade students to opt in to honors humanities classes themselves without the need for a recommendation from a teacher and or guidance counselor, or achieve a particular mark in a class or on a test. In another change from the current system, this would have students doing grade-level coursework and honors-level coursework in the same classroom. This would be implemented for the 2022-23 school year. If it goes well, the system would be broadened beyond ninth-grade humanities to other advanced placement classes throughout the high school.
The conversation started at the February 4 Teaching and Learning Committee meeting, chaired by board of education trustee Robin Jacobowitz. Jacobowitz said the committee began by analyzing middle school acceleration classes, where data from the last few years showed that there a disproportionate number of participating students were white and not enrolled in special education classes.
“We identified several reasons that might be causing this disproportionality,” said Jacobowitz. “The schedule makes it so that services provided for special education students conflict with accelerated classes. Sometimes parents are unaware that their students can receive high school credit and that there are opportunities at the middle school level. There is a larger issue of students not being well prepared for engagement with accelerated core academic and art classes.”
The Teaching and Learning Committee identified different actions that could be taken. The first is revising the scheduling process, as mentioned above.
“[Students currently underrepresented in these programs] can be the center of the scheduling process so we are scheduling around them so they can have access to these courses,” said Jacobowitz.
Additionally, Jacobowitz said the district could plan to create informational material so parents and students know more about the accelerated programs that are offered.
The high school opt-in model would allow students to choose their level of participation between grade-level and honor-level. That model would allow for easier transition between the two, with struggling students able to move to grade-level work and excelling students to honors-level work without having to be placed in a different class.
“With this model, Kingston High School will continue to offer the wide range of grade level and honor opportunities that it always has,” said Jacobowitz. “This approach will increase access to honor levels course work, and not decrease it.”
Jacobowitz said the details are still being worked on for the pilot program, which will include professional development to support teachers.
Board of Education President James Shaugnessey said he thinks the pilot program is “wonderful.”
The next Teaching and Learning Committee meeting will be on March 11.