South reacts to mixed level classes

by Taban Malihi, Risha Sindha and Lily Zarr, News Reporters, News Editor
graphic by Dongyuan Fu

This year, students in different academic levels are learning together in mixed level classes, which have been implemented across all subjects to increase equity. 

The decision was initially made by Superintendent David Fleishman, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools Toby Romer, and the principals and department heads of both North and South. Science department head Gerard Gagnon said that the district’s focus on anti-racism was the key reason for the change. 

“One way that we are committed to being an active anti-racist district is to examine the policies and procedures that we’ve used in the past,” he said. “As a district, both North and South recognize that the way we had been doing levels had some bias associated with it.”

South’s Global Communities, New Media Communities and Da Vinci programs have been mixed level, and set a positive example for new mixed level classes this year, guidance counselor and former Interim Vice Principal Christopher Hardiman said. 

“Students benefit from learning from other students who may have different abilities,” he said. “The teachers in those programs are very positive about [mixed level classes].”

Math teacher Karen Kinel said that mixed level classes could give more students the ability to engage with learning material and peers.

“If it’s done correctly and students put the right effort in and utilize the right resources, [for] the students who might not have been in a higher level, having access to that could give them new opportunities,” she said.

Freshman and member of a mixed level math class Maya Goldberger said mixed level classes will encourage more students to succeed. 

“It would be good for each student to get what they need,” Goldberger said. “If lower-level students are placed with higher-level students, the higher-level students can help the lower-level students to learn.”

However, freshman Yonatan Tevet-Markelevich said his math class being mixed level makes it difficult to get help.

“There are people in different levels in the same class, which makes it harder to receive support on your level,” he said. “If someone who struggles at a specific subject is in a class with people who are at higher levels than them, it could be hard to not compare yourself to them.”

Given their recent mass integration, mixed level classes have unresolved conflicts, Grace Jones, a sophomore taking a mixed level history class, said. 

“It creates a really competitive classroom environment where people aren’t necessarily encouraged to share what they’re thinking or their thoughts during class because they’re scared of being considered wrong for the level that they’re in,” she said.

Further, sophomore Dolev Zilberstein said that he doesn’t like the changes his mixed level classes have made to the type of work he is assigned. 

“I don’t say [honors] should be the same amount of work, but it should not just be more questions added on to your regular homework,” he said. “Honors should [have] more challenging work.” 

In addition to students’ workloads changing due to mixed level classes, the definition of honors classes has shifted, junior Ella Meirav said.

“Honors classes don’t have the same meaning anymore,” she said. “It’s like you’re in an ACP class and … you just have extra credit work.” 

Although she doesn’t like certain aspects of her mixed level classes, sophomore Sara Thomas said she views the change positively and appreciates the opportunities they have given her.

“Despite it being frustrating, it’s good because it gives people opportunities and chances,” Thomas said. “I wouldn’t have gone up when I was in certain classes if I hadn’t already been there and had a chance to try it out safely.”

To make this new system effective, senior Enya Kamadolli said that teachers should be adequately prepared to accommodate the needs of all students.

“If it is to become a permanent fixture, teachers need to receive training on how to teach multi-level classes and change their curriculum … to better suit people who learn at different paces,” she said.

As South becomes more familiar with mixed level classes, Gagnon said that there will be improvement.

“We’re not going to be as good at it this month as next month,” he said. “I’m quite confident that the longer we persist at it the better we’ll get at it, and the easier it will be for the teachers and the students to be able to figure it all out.”

Although the change to mixed level classes is a big adjustment, English teacher Alan Reinstein said that he is confident that students will remain supported, regardless of level.

“Every class is really mixed level in principle, so I don’t see the great damage in opening up,” he said. “It challenges teachers to be better teachers and to really try to meet the needs of all students.”