By Michael Coughlin Jr.
Following spirited testimony from students, teachers, and parents during the public speaking portion of last week’s regular School Committee meeting, two motions were passed that would bring separate honors-level classes back to the middle school and high school levels in Revere.
Superintendent of Schools Dianne Kelly explained that the district has worked to change its grading policies over the last decade. In 2020, it began detracking, meaning “all kids should have access to high-quality, rigorous curriculum,” per Kelly.
Before detracking, Kelly explained that students were placed into separate honors or pre-AP classes based on performance aspects such as MCAS scores and “internal testing measures.”
With the implementation of detracking, changes came to Revere’s honors program at the high school and middle school levels.
Now, at the high school level, students take part in heterogeneous classes where teachers offer advanced tasks that students have the option of completing to earn honors credit or not completing to earn regular credit.
“The idea was that any kid could choose at any time to accelerate their work and do the honors work because we know that kids emerge in understanding at different points,” said Kelly.
Furthermore, detracking has removed honors at the middle school level. Middle school students are now evaluated using a standards-based grading system that the district’s elementary schools use.
Specifically, middle school students receive marks of either exceeding, meeting, approaching, or not yet approaching expectations.
These changes have sparked a feeling amongst many students, teachers, and parents, some of whom spoke at last week’s meeting, that the current honors system needs a recalibration.
For students, especially upper-classmen who find themselves applying to colleges, there are concerns that the current system could be costing students merit-based aid.
One student explained that in their time at Revere High School, their transcript had been questioned while interviewing as part of two prestigious programs, one offering around a $250,000 scholarship.
“People want to know why I’ve taken AP rigorous courses but no honors courses, and in both situations, I’ve had to explain that honors were lost in the crossfire of detracking,” said the student.
“Thankfully, I was lucky enough that I was questioned about them — without having been questioned about it, there’s a possibility I could have lost over $250,000 worth of opportunities for myself, and if I’ve almost lost this as one student, how much do you think other students are losing in basic merit aid,” they added.
Moreover, there are concerns that the current system is not as rigorous, meaning that higher-level students are not feeling challenged.
“Why are we pigeonholing the advanced kids into these non-advanced courses? And also, just with regards to the rigor of the current course load, I feel like TikTok and Netflix could essentially make their annual revenue based on the amount of it watched at this school,” said a parent.
“So please give these kids some more rigorous class work to do,” they added.
Teachers also expressed their desire for a change to the current honors system. One teacher who has taught in Revere Public Schools for 27 years spoke to the difficulty of managing a heterogeneous class with a wide range of student performance.
“I teach a financial literacy class that is a heterogeneous class. I have students with 3.9s, and I have students with 0.4s. There are people in this room that can attest that I’m a decent teacher; I cannot differentiate to cover that spectrum of students, never mind ELL, language barriers, and anything else,” said the teacher.
“We need an honors program not just for the kids at the top but more so for the kids at the bottom; they need a pat on the back,” they added.
The public speak portion of the meeting indicated that a seemingly unanimous contingent of speakers favored reintroducing honors classes.
Later in the meeting, the School Committee began discussions on a motion brought forth by Members Aisha Milbury-Ellis, Anthony Caggiano, and Anthony Mattera to “have a separate class for honors level for both middle and high school core classes for the 24-25 school year.”
Milbury-Ellis clarified the motion further when Kelly asked for clarity and explained, “The honors program — it would be a separate class. However, the classes would be made available to all students just as the AP classes are.”
Kelly provided her opinion on the situation as the discussion progressed and said, “I just feel like this committee is making a really heavy decision that impacts a whole lot of other work with very little conversation about it, and I would beg the committee to not do that.”
Following Kelly’s remarks, Member Stacey Bronsdon-Rizzo motioned to table the discussion until next month to have more conversations about it; however, the request was not granted.
Mayor Patrick Keefe also commented on the proposal in part, saying, “However this motion goes this evening, if it is the will of the school committee to ask the superintendent and the administration to offer an honors program, if that means that they need to crawl before they walk before they run then we have to allow them to do that.”
“We need to be able to accept the administration’s ability to create this program to make sure that it can be implemented in a timely fashion and worked in a timely fashion,” he added.
Eventually, every Member besides Bronsdon-Rizzo, who voted present, supported a substitute motion made by the committee’s Vice Chair Jacqueline Monterroso to split the motion and have two separate votes, one for the high school and the other for the middle school level.
Before the votes on the newly split motions, there was more discussion. Monterroso echoed Keefe’s previous comments about giving the superintendent and the administration time to implement the program.
Ultimately, the motion at the high school level passed with votes of yes from every member except Bronsdon-Rizzo, who again voted present, and the motion at the middle school level also eventually passed by a vote of 5 to 1 with another present vote by Bronsdon-Rizzo after a substitute motion to send the conversation to subcommittee was voted down.