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DeKalb School District 428 could cut advanced middle school classes

DeKALB – Some DeKalb School District 428 administrators want to eliminate advanced classes from middle schools, but board members aren’t convinced it’s a good idea.

The proposal would eliminate advanced language arts and math classes for students in sixth through eighth grade, although eighth-graders would still be able to take Algebra I, an advanced class. Both Clinton Rosette and Huntley Middle schools offer advanced sections for each of the two teams middle school students are split between, but officials did not know how many students take them.

“We will still have honors-level work,” Assessment Coordinator Laura Edwards told school board members Tuesday night. “It will just take place in every classroom for those students that need it.”

Instead of advanced classes, DeKalb High School Assistant Principal Jennie Hueber and Edwards said regular courses would become more rigorous to align classroom instruction with the Common Core standards. Teachers would focus on hands-on teaching for students in the same classroom at different levels, a teaching philosophy known as differentiation.

Some board members were skeptical of the plan.

“It seems like when we’re eliminating some of the top tier and trying to squish everybody in the middle,” board member Tom Matya said.

Edwards said the district doesn’t have enough students to fill the 70 spots in advanced courses at each grade level, leaving leaders debating whether to offer smaller advanced classes or put advanced students on one team in the middle schools.

Nothing in the presentation was enough to convince board member Nina Fontana that getting rid of advanced classes would be a good move.

“If you take away the honors class, you’re taking away that one whole group of students who really need that extra push, that extra depth that is taught in those classes that you can’t bring to every student in every class,” Fontana said, adding she thought advanced students would be bored.

Assistant Superintendent Doug Moeller, who will become the superintendent this summer, contended offering advanced classes at the middle school level was something the district did under the antiquated Illinois State Standards, which were replaced by more robust Common Core standards.

“The bar is being significantly raised for all students right out of the gate. So the differentiation issue, the issue with students being bored, is not going to be there,” Moeller said. “We’re also going to have to raise the bar on what it takes for students to be placed in advanced classes.”

Edwards said pulling advanced classes from the middle schools might not be a permanent solution.

“This is a for-right-now decision, not necessarily a forever decision,” Edwards said.

Because the item was up for information and discussion only, board members did not take action. Board President Tracy Williams said the proposal would take some careful consideration and more research before it comes before the board again in May.

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