By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Plan's impact should be considered
Placeholder Image

Grouping students by ability is hardly a new concept ... Yet we understand concerns that categorizing teens based on test scores might be setting them up for failure.

The Monroe School District is considering a curriculum program that would group high-schoolers by ability level in an effort to boost student performance in core subjects. As expected, red flags are already being raised.

Under the proposal, eighth-graders would be tested in core subjects of math, science, social studies and English and placed in classes accordingly. Those who don't meet the college readiness mark would be placed in the prep category, while those scoring higher marks would be placed in the honors category.

The proposal, which is still in the planning stage, is raising some concern among parents and other community members. They question whether we are creating self-fulfilling prophecies for individual students. By placing lower academic performers, or at least those who test at a lower level, in prep classes, are we setting these students up for continued lower achievement?

It's a valid concern. Grouping students in eighth grade could create a stigma difficult for adolescents to overcome. The possibility certainly exists that students might not be able to rise beyond such an early expectation of poor academic performance.

And, the policy begs the question: Are we giving up on some kids too soon?

For its part, the district maintains grouping will allow teachers to better address students' needs based on their skill levels. Educators continually struggle to find the happy medium so they aren't teaching over the heads of lower-performing students while still challenging higher-performing students.

"Teaching to the middle doesn't help students at either end," said Cory Hirsbrunner, the district's director of instruction.

Hirsbrunner and MHS principal Rick Waski, who along with a group of teachers are looking at how to implement the program, say students will not be locked into a performance category. Students will be able to test into a higher level at the end of the year, or possibly the end of the semester. Each core subject will also be treated separately; for example, a student may be placed in honors English and prep science, depending on where his needs are.

Grouping students by ability is hardly a new concept - students are already grouped at the elementary level for reading and math. Yet we understand concerns that categorizing teens based on test scores might be setting some up for failure.

We're glad the district regularly engages in introspection when it comes to instruction. Monroe provides a quality education, in no small part because it continually seeks ways to improve.

But we would urge a cautious approach to such a change, considering the potential impact. The district should study the idea further. Any decisions made should be designed to give students - all students - the best possible opportunity for success.