Open Access Inspected

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Jessica Lu, staff writer, and Mabel Kabani, opinion editor

From Nov. 30 print edition

Under Beverly’s implementation of the Open Access policy, students gain an expanded ability to self-select their classes. When students meet recommended prerequisites such as grades, teacher recommendations and sometimes CST scores, they are automatically eligible for the following year’s honors or Advanced Placement course. However, students that fall short of any of these requirements are able to fill out paperwork and request to override their teachers’ recommendations to enroll into their desired course(s).

“In 2006, the WASC team put in our recommendations for implementation. Kids who normally wouldn’t have been recommended for an honors or AP class have the opportunity to be in that class and really stretch themselves and grow,” Assistant Principal Amy Golden said.

While Open Access serves to give an equal opportunity to willing students, each department was impacted differently, and departments created guidelines to determine if an override is applicable.

“I think the system works fairly well,” Science Dept. Chair Sue Yovetich said. “We’re not forced with a lot of override situations… because most of the science classes don’t require a teacher recommendation, just previous course prerequisites.”

Similarly, the Art Department has not felt negative impacts, due to the sequential ordering of the classes.

“The counselors always talk to us about [assigning classes] and have been great about it,” Technical Arts Dept. Chair Tim Briggs said. “It’s not a problem with us.”

The math department has faced mixed results. Though some students struggled in math classes their teachers deemed them not ready for, other students, such as Aaron Wolfe, felt more comfortable enrolling in the advanced class they opted into. After being a few percentage points short of being able to get into Math Analysis Honors, Wolfe used Open Access to opt into the class.

“I feel I made a good decision so far,” Wolfe said. “The class was a little bit challenging to begin with, but it just took some time to get used to.”

However, his case may be “more the exception than the rule,” according to Mathematics Dept. Chair Jane Wortman.

“[Overriding] allows students to take classes they are not necessarily well prepared for,” Wortman said. “They either struggle in the classes, or they ask a lot of questions to keep up, which slows the pace of the class.”

Student Board Member Jason Friedman voiced similar opinions.

“To be frank, it’s a flawed system because it gives the students too much freedom in determining their course placement,” Friedman said. “It has the net effect of watering down honors and AP classes.”

Though some students are concerned that the quality of their education is being degraded, others feel that Open Access is a positive opportunity for students eager to push themselves academically.

“It gives students a say and control in what classes they feel they should be in,” junior Paloma Bloch said.

However, others feel that students automatically enrolled in a class will be unaffected by those who overrided.

“If a student really wants to be in a class, that is a personal decision. The higher-performing students will study regardless, and excel,” peer tutor Sharon Attia said.

Slower-paced classes could lead to a decline in CST scores, but because many factors impact CST scores, the finger cannot be pointed at Open Access.

“It was brought up that CST scores in math have gone down since Open Access,” Golden said, but she pointed out that there may be no correlation between the two.

Since 2006, the percent of proficient or advanced in Algebra I has fallen from 69 percent to 35 percent. The most dramatic drop in scores occurred between 2006 and 2008, when Open Access was first instituted at Beverly.

“I think it would be really nice if we had a very definitive tool for saying yes…but it’s very hard to come up with [that],” Wortman said.

Both the Board of Education and the administration have been looking into more specific criteria allowing a student to enroll in an advanced course. Friedman suggested that a teacher should be able to decide if a student would be successful in his or her new class within the first five week period. If the student failed to show promise in the class, he or she would be enrolled in his or her originally intended class.

The administration is also looking to add more specific circumstances for when overriding is appropriate. Testing has already been done in the English department, which administers diagnostic tests for students, to filter out students that are not at an advanced level academically. Students such as junior

Natalie Friedman made the decision to test into AP Language and Composition this year. “I decided to [test in] because I felt I had become better in English in my sophomore year,” Friedman said. “The class is at a good level of difficulty. More is expected than [from] a regular level class.” The administration is currently looking into requiring more testing in areas such as math. However, Wortman is worried about the potential results.

“I think it’d be difficult to come up with a [test] that would absolutely guarantee success, or a lack of [success]. A lot of what we do is dealing with performance the previous year because that’s not a one-shot deal,” Wortman said.

These types of concerns will be targeted at future administration meetings.

“It’s too early to talk about what will happen, but we are definitely looking at [new guidelines],” Golden said. “If a student does not self-select well, it is my duty to make sure they are in the right place.”

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