A San Francisco Bay Area high school district is considering removing honors classes for high school students in an effort to streamline its courses and promote “equity” – a move that has sparked concern among students, parents, and teachers.
The Sequoia Union High School District’s board discussed the move during a six-hour meeting Sept. 20, but did not come to a decision on the matter.
District administration staff annually review courses based on students’ academic outcomes, and “typically in response to low scores … that have not improved over time,” according to a district analysis.
Arguing for equity, the analysis stated that eliminating certain honors courses and merging students taking “advanced” classes with those taking them at “grade-level” would “diversify” the classroom and could improve academic outcomes for students who “have historically experienced barriers” to advanced coursework.
Over the past several years, Sequoia Union has merged advanced freshman science with grade-level science courses and merged advanced freshman math courses with grade-level math districtwide.
At several individual high schools, advanced English, physics, and chemistry have additionally been merged with their respective grade-level courses.
The analysis said its study found such changes had little-to-no effect on the districts’ advanced-placement students—while students that have struggled saw academic improvement and higher rates meeting college entrance requirements.
“When students have greater access to rigorous coursework and are held to high standards, they are more likely to meet those expectations,” the analysis stated.
But SUHSD Students First—an advocacy group made up of students, parents, teachers, and community members—raised concerns about transparency, saying that the school community was not given an opportunity for input on the matter.
The group said they believed the analysis was “biased” toward merging despite their efforts to work with the district to get neutral data.
“We are disappointed the board did not ensure a neutral report and did not have any participation in the review of the data. It is clear we should have advocated for an external contractor to conduct the research and prepare the report,” the group said in a statement on their website.
District high school student Jacob Yuryev—who also serves as a student trustee on the board—said he opposed merging classes, arguing in a statement that “grade inflation” was the true reason for most of the claimed benefits of removing honors classes.
Jacob also claimed that merging did not affect advanced students because classes are easier and students are not learning as much as they previously did.
“There is zero actual data on the detriments of not offering advanced classes to more academically inclined students,” he stated.
“All the data is saying ‘their grades stayed the same’; this is explained by the fact that the class got easier. Offering [advanced] classes in no way diminishes the opportunity of the [socially-economically disadvantaged] population.”