Do not delevel 7th grade without seriously considering alternatives!
Petition on Deleveling in the South Orange-Maplewood NJ District
We, concerned parents, students, and alumni of the South Orange-Maplewood NJ School district and local residents hereby ask our School Board to reconsider the recommendations of the "Task Force on Excellence and Equity” proposed by the Superintendent at the May 17, 2010 Board meeting -- especially the momentous recommendation to delevel core subjects in 7th grade. We believe this decision will set the direction of the district for years to come, and therefore it should not be rushed to a Board vote before a full community discussion of all options can take place.
In particular, we believe the Task Force failed to consider the option of introducing small honors-level classes in core subjects in middle school. Such classes would include roughly 10-15% of students in a given grade and offer an accelerated pace and assignments beyond current Level 4 standards, and criteria for entry would recognize multiple kinds of ability and a wide range of indicators of student readiness.
Our belief that this option deserves full consideration does not mean that we support the status quo. Exploring the possibility of small honors program in middle school is compatible with combining the rest of students assigned to Levels 4 and 3 in core subjects into a new set of classes all taught to current Level 4 standards. If this is done, we believe the Board should adopt a clear set of guidelines to ensure that the curriculum, pace of delivery, and grading standards remain at least as challenging as they are in current Level 4 classes in middle school, which will better prepare students for the grading in high school. Given that approximately 80% of students would be placed in the new combined level classes, this plan would
++ remove most of the racial disparities in our current level system in middle school;
++ ensure a more demanding set of standards for current level 3 students;
++ avoid the often-cited stigma of current level 3 placement: because the honors level would be such a small percentage of our students in any middle school grade (unlike current level 4), there should be no social stigma attached to not being in it, just as there is no stigma attached to being in level 4 math rather than in level 5 math in 8th grade;
++ still address the legitimate concerns that our highest-achieving or fastest-learning middle school students need a program in which they can move at an accelerated pace with others;
++ make differentiation of instruction in the new classes combining Level 3 and Level 4 students more feasible for teachers;
++ fulfill the promises of Level 4 standards and an Enrichment program for middle schools made to the community when core subjects in 6th grade were deleveled six years ago.
Such an alternative deserves time for full consideration, and it could not be implemented before fall 2011. Whatever change to our levels is made, however, can be better implemented after the new language arts curriculum is fully phased in and the study of our math curriculum is complete, and we see how other proposed changes to 6th grade core instruction are working, and we see what kinds of teacher training and class sizes can be planned into our 2011-12 budget. While other components of the Task Force recommendations for middle school (such as the expansion of time on core subjects) should go ahead for fall 2010, the major change to middle school levels should wait for these developments and full community feedback on more than the single option presented by the Task Force.
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Signing is a pledge that you live in either Maplewood or South Orange, NJ. Please do not sign if you do not live in our school district.