Tougher schools standard sought

Instruction-level changes given preliminary OK

Board will vote in October

May 23, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

To increase rigor and prepare students for state-mandated high school assessments, the Carroll County school board took the first step yesterday toward changing the levels of instruction at which high school courses are taught.

Proposed changes to the school system's method of dividing students of different abilities among different levels of coursework would eliminate the lowest levels at which a course is offered, leaving four levels: honors-level classes; "academic"-level classes; "fundamental"-level classes for which students must get the permission of their principal; and Level 1 review classes.

The review classes would be for students who have failed the class or the corresponding state assessment and also would require the permission of the principal.

Fewer levels will ensure that students are not taking the easiest courses available, said Steven Johnson, director of curriculum and staff development.

For instance, he said, a student now taking a Level 2 math class would be shut out of the new Level 2 class without an administrator's approval, requiring him to sign up for the more challenging Level 3 math class.

"We're breaking the paradigm out there that that's a Level 2 kid vs. that's a Level 2 course," Johnson said.

Noting research that shows students who are categorized at a certain level rarely break out of that designation, regardless of their ability levels, he added, "We need to start talking about course levels and not kid levels."

In Carroll schools, course levels vary from school to school and from course to course. In a subject such as ninth-grade English, most high schools offer four levels of instruction, adapting coursework to the abilities of lower-performing students, those on an accelerated track and students who fall in between. A subject such as calculus does not lend itself to levels as easily.

With the board granting its preliminary approval, the new designations will be forwarded to the committee that evaluates the high school program of studies in August.

The committee's recommendations will return to the school board in September for discussion and in October for a vote.

The proposed guidelines for course levels will be available on the school system's Web site at

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