Freshman “essentials” level classes eliminated this fall

Freshman

Social Studies teacher John O'Connor teaches his government class. Starting next year, all freshman-level "essentials" classes will be eliminated.

Rossano Butcher, Staff Writer

Ludlow High School will eliminate the “essential” level of instruction in all freshman classes beginning next year in order to increase rigor and to give all students an equal opportunity to attend a four-year college.

Currently, “essential” classes are weighed the lowest of all the class levels (Advanced Placement, honors, standard and essential). According to Principal Gina Flanagan, two-year colleges have indicated that these lower level courses are not “adequately preparing students for this track as well,” and most four-year schools do not accept the credit for those classes.

“All students deserve the chance to attend a four-year college if they so choose,” said Flanagan. “We can’t shut them out of that path prior to them even entering the door of the high school.”

Previously students were placed in “essential” classes based on their eighth-grade grades and also their MCAS scores. However, some students were also placed at this level based on their poor behavior and/or motivational level.

“Placement into lower level courses should really be based on a student’s cognitive ability and not factors such as behavior and motivation, as we have separate programs for that,” said Flanagan.

The “essential” students will be dispersed equally throughout the standard classes so that the class may be more balanced. This might then get those struggling students to be more motivated and therefore improve themselves academically.

Mrs. Flanagan also said that if students are around peers who have a more serious and positive attitude about their education, it can help some of them get more motivated and serious about school.

Some teachers have seen this work in the past.

“Some years, I have made a point of pulling individual “essential” students, one at a time, out of their study hall to sit in on a “standard” level class,” said Social Studies teacher Mr. John O’Connor. “In the process, they see that there is indeed a population of kids out there who are highly-motivated and enthusiastic about learning.”

According to Flanagan, the school is working to meet the goals of the Common Core Standards, which includes the College Readiness Standards. These are national academic standards for both ELA and math, which have been integrated into the Massachusetts Framework. These standards focus on helping students to be fully ready for post-secondary education or a successful career.

“All students graduating from high school should at least be able to reach the minimum standards of a high school course, if not surpass them,” said Flanagan. “The essential level, in my opinion, does not support our goals here at LHS, and at the state and national level.”

President Barack Obama has also been sending a message through his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that education must “progress toward college and career-ready standards and rigorous assessments that will improve both teaching and learning” in order for the U.S. to maintain a thriving, global economy.

“The United States is quickly dropping from the world’s top spot in the areas of science, technology and math,” said Flanagan. “Our current education system has to take a look at this and begin to question how we can push more students toward rigor in excellence in these areas.”

With the elimination of the “essential” level, the school will provide those who may struggle in the areas of ELA and math with “tiered-instruction classes.” These classes will replace one of their DLTs and give students a “double dose” of those subjects specifically targeted to meet their needs.

There are mixed views from teachers, according to Flanagan. A few do not believe the structure will be successful, but are willing to see it through, and many are completely on board and very excited on how it might turn out.

O’Connor is one teacher who will be impacted.

“Teachers will need to exercise great creativity in developing lesson plans which challenge higher-functioning students but which also allow for the success of all students,” said O’Connor. “That won’t be easy to accomplish.”

Flanagan said that the idea of eliminating low-level classes is not a new concept.

“This is new to LHS, but not a new concept for many schools across the country. We have to look at ways to raise the bar and give all kids a shot at the best life possible,” said Flanagan. “We made the decision to slowly implement this to the incoming freshmen. But if it turns out the way we all hope it will, then we will look to implement this to the upper grades as well.”