The principal of unveiled the specifics for his plan to group all freshmen students in honors classes on Wednesday, but many parents remain skeptical.
It’s been called leveling, heterogeneous grouping, and more recently “honors for all,” but it all means the same thing.
Starting this fall, all freshmen students at Annapolis High will be enrolled in honors-level U.S. history and biology classes regardless of their academic levels. That means mixing students who may not have a track record of getting all A’s—or students who have an individualized education program or IEP—alongside the future class valedictorian.
Principal Don Lilley and his faculty laid out their plan for this new initiative at Wednesday’s meeting of the Annapolis Education Commission (AEC), hosted in the school auditorium. Prior to the meeting, the AEC compiled a list of more than 60 questions that were emailed by the community and presented meeting attendees with 16 pages of answers. During the meeting, Lilley took additional questions from the audience, but also offered a glimpse behind the curtain of how the classes will operate effectively.
“We believe that we can raise the achievement of students as a whole, and we can have more vibrant and rigorous [classrooms] for all of our kids. We believe that,” said Regional Assistant Superintendent Chris Truffer.
To overcome the challenge of students learning at different paces, Lilley said classes would be taught with three approaches to each subject of discussion, each dealing with students of varying abilities. The school will also offer support, such as seminar classes that can be taken as electives, for students who are struggling with the new coursework.
But many parents at Wednesday’s meeting were skeptical of the new idea, especially regarding classroom discipline and the impact on high achievers. There remains a looming fear that higher-performing students will suffer from the leveling process.
“My fear is that my child will lose something in this process,” said parent Heather Macintosh. “I think parents are afraid that what we love about Annapolis High School … will get diluted, taken away or somehow compromised by the introduction of a brand new concept.”
Macintosh is one of several parents in the AEC. In September, the group released their study of heterogeneous grouping, which concluded the concept needed further study before being implemented.
Jeff Macris, chairman of the AEC, stated that more than 95 percent of the feedback that he's received from parents concerning heterogeneous grouping at Annapolis High School has been negative.
Despite their findings, Lilley said in no uncertain terms that honors for all would begin in the fall. However, he has involved the AEC in planning for the change, and even invited a member who has been vocal against the grouping process to speak at the meeting.
“I’m afraid that honors for all will send parents scurrying to check on STEM programs and private schools,” said parent Lisa Pline.
Pline expressed concerns about the honors for all program with everything else the school is trying to accomplish such as a new signature program, full implementation of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme and the county's first .
Near the end of the meeting, one parent who spoke anonymously from the crowd pointed out a potential chink in the armor of Lilley's proposal. Truffer had said the University of Maryland would be providing an independent evaulation of the initiative. But when pressed for specifics, Truffer said that the university had only been contacted recently, and they were still working out the details for what he called a research study.
“We are just underway in communicating with the University of Maryland,” Truffer said. “My understanding is that the research study would focus solely on the ninth grade here at Annapolis.”
The parent said that didn’t sound like an assessment with teeth, but simply a report that could be discarded. He asked if the school had tied itself to a concept that it could choke on if it proved ineffective halfway through the year.
Lilley said tweaks could be made if they saw weaknesses in the plan but the school is committed to doing the program for the full school year.
“We are not here to see things crumble,” Lilley said. “My reputation is on the line. That’s OK. I believe in it.”
Editor's note: This article has been updated from a previous version to clarify that the Annapolis Education Commission did not conduct a poll of parents.