Published in the January 25, 2019 edition.


WAKEFIELD — A proposal to eliminate 9th grade honors English from the 2019-2020 Wakefield Memorial High School Program of Studies was discussed at length at this week’s School Committee meeting after a number of parents expressed concern over the change.

WMHS Principal Amy McLeod and Director of Guidance AJ Beebe presented the program of studies, with the 9th grade English course change taking up most of the discussion. Prior to that presentation, Suzy Veilleux of Aborn Avenue read from a letter signed by 50 parents raising concerns about eliminating 9th grade honors English in favor of “leveling” the course offerings for all 9th graders. Previously, both honors English and College Preparatory (CP) English have been offered in all four high school grades.

McLeod said that the proposed change involves heterogeneously grouping all 9th grade students in English Language Arts class but giving honors weight to all students. As such, she said, students who would have taken Honors English won’t see much difference.

“We’re talking about an equitable experience for all students,” she said, adding that it would also help to balance class sizes.

Right now, McLeod added, there is really no clear distinction between honors level 9th grade English and CP English. The curriculum and the standards are the same for both she said.

“We feel that with the right supports, all students can meet or exceed those standards,” she added.

McLeod said that even within Honors English, there is a wide range of learners, so leveling the course won’t stretch that much further. After 9th grade, students who want to continue at an honors or a CP level can do so.

McLeod suggested that the leveling of 9th grade English can help students who might have gone into CP English to reach a higher level. She said the impetus for leveling the course came from teachers in the English Language Arts Department and more and more school districts are adopting similar approaches.

She added that the move would place Wakefield in compliance with NEASC standards, which require that students be in one heterogeneously grouped core class. The New England Association of Secondary Schools is the organization that provides accreditation for high schools.

School Committee member Christopher Callanan said that the concerns that he’s heard from parents were either that the struggling students would hold back the high achievers or that the struggling students wouldn’t be able to keep up. But Callanan pointed out that the emphasis these days is on the amount of student “growth” more than on number or letter grades.

Beebe pointed out that there are paraprofessionals and co-teaching programs in place to support kids who might be struggling.

“We’re bringing everybody up,” he said.

School Committee member Ann Fortier said that the move seemed like a great opportunity for students to learn with their peers as they have been all the way through school. She said that the curriculum would not get watered-down because there will be a deliberate focus on reaching every student.

School Committee member Aimee Purcell expressed some of the concerns that have been raised about having just one level of 9th grade English. She said that some kids might not be comfortable with the higher expectations of an honors-level curriculum and might elect to participate less in class, whereas kids who would have taken an honors-level class want to be challenged. She asked about the safeguards and supports for students.

McLeod said that teachers will still monitor to make sure students aren’t falling through the cracks. She added that for incoming 9th grade students, it won’t feel any different because they’re new to the High School and have never experienced CP or honors classes before.

Beebe added that whether they select honors or CP English when the get to 10th grade, no students will be “dropping back” or “moving up” because they all will have taken the same 9th grade English class.

Chairman Thomas Markham said that there would be a parent forum at a date to be announced before the scheduled Feb. 12 School Committee vote on the 2019-2020 WMHS Program of Studies.