In preparation for Wednesday’s Board meeting, the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) released a draft-report on detracked classes titled, “Streamlining Course Offerings and Creating More Diverse Learning Environments to Increase Student Access and Success.” The M-A Chronicle read all 121 pages so you don’t have to.
Primarily authored by Diana Wilmot, the District’s Director of Program Evaluation and Research, the report discusses several detracked classes throughout the district, including M-A’s freshman English courses, as well as Chemistry, Biology, and Physics courses.
While there wasn’t a significant increase in freshman English pass rates during the first year of MCLV, the number of socio-economically disadvantaged (SED) students to receive above a C- nearly doubled the second year.
It’s important to recognize that there have only been two years into the development of detracking for English, Chemistry, and Physics, and three years for Biology––thus, it is difficult to draw full conclusions on many of the patterns observed in the study.
English Language Arts
In 2021, M-A removed AS English I, placing all freshmen in Multicultural Literature and Voice (MCLV). According to the report, before its removal, AS English I was skewed against SED students, who made up anywhere from 2% to 7% of the total AS English I enrollment between 2013 and 2020. In English I however, SED students made up 70% of total English I enrollment, despite only being 42% of the ninth grade class.
Using pass rates as a measurement of success in ninth grade English classes, the report highlights that in 2019, 85% of non-SED students and only 48% of SED students achieved a C- or higher in second semester English I. 34% of SED students failed the class, and 16% barely passed by achieving a “D”.
During the first year of MCLV, pass rates didn’t change significantly.
The numbers drastically changed the second year of MCLV. While the number of non-SED students who got above a C- remained similar, the percentage of SED students to do so almost doubled, increasing to 80%.
The report also includes data about so-called “high fliers”—students who earned a GPA of 3.5 or higher their freshman year. Between the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school years, not only did the number of SED “high fliers” who earned an A in ninth grade English increase from 4% to 48%, the overall number of SED “high fliers” increased as well, jumping from 15% to 66%.
The report suggests, “The merging of the ninth-grade course offerings in English Language Arts not only impacted SED students in English but may have influenced their overall 9th grade GPA as well.”
The report also includes a section regarding the district-wide removal of Advanced Integrated Science (AIS), Advanced Biology, and Physics for freshmen in the 2019-2020 school year. AIS was previously the lowest life science track offered to ninth-graders, counting as a college elective credit rather than a UC/CSU A-G credit.
From the 2013-2014 school year to the 2018-2019 school year, the numbers of SED and non-SED students district-wide who received a “D” or an “F” in Biology, Advanced Biology, or Physics were roughly the same, but the overall percentage of these students was much lower than the roughly 30% to 40% of SED students who received a “D” or an “F” . From 2020 to 2023—after the removal of AS Biology—the number of SED ninth-graders who received a “D” or an “F” in their science classes was double pre-covid numbers, suggesting a possible negative consequence of detracking biology, but without more specificity, it’s unclear what it means.
The detracking of Biology in the 2019-2020 school year also affected subsequent enrollment for regular Chemistry for the Class of 2023, who took the last tracked Chemistry course during their sophomore year. Those who had Biology as freshmen “matriculated into Chemistry for their sophomore year.” The number of students enrolled in Chemistry grew by 430% among sophomores and increased from 38 to 207 students in the class of 2017 and 2023 respectively. Further, SED student enrollment also increased, from 40 to 157 students from the Class of 2017 and 2023––a 300% incline.
In the 2021-2022 school year, M-A removed the option of taking AS Chemistry. The majority of students (78%) were enrolled in AS Chemistry in 2017 and most of them (around more than 90%) were not socioeconomically disadvantaged.
The report concludes that pass rates did not change for non-SED students in 10th-grade Chemistry after merging—96% or more got above a C-. It also states that more SED students passed Chemistry after detracking—the pass rate increased from 53% (57/107 students) in the class of 2023 to 83% (63/76 students) in the class of 2024. Similar increases occurred with students meeting graduation requirements with a D or higher.
However, the class of 2023 had a significantly lower percentage of students passed grade-level Chemistry compared any other class of students throughout the past eight years. This was partially due to the fact that this school year––2020-2021 was under lockdown, with school partially or entirely online.
If this year was to be excluded, regular Chemistry F and D grade rates for SED students remain relatively the same and if not higher after detracking––those from the class of 2025 are around double those of the years before the pandemic.
Detracking has only been implemented for two years at M-A, so it’s unreasonable to draw any concrete conclusions from the statistics from SED students in the class of 2024 or 2025.
Even before detracking, the number of SED students enrolled in regular Chemistry had generally increased from the class of 2017 to the class of 2023, before the merging of the two classes. In fact, in 2023, the majority of people who took Chemistry took the regular class rather than AS (45% to 43%).
In the class of 2023, the number of SED sophomores enrolled in regular Chemistry also outnumbered the number of non-SED sophomores enrolled in regular Chemistry for the first time. M-A’s general population is around 30% SED students––just before the merge, the regular Chemistry course was about 50% SED. After the courses merged in 2024, the regular Chemistry class was only 21% SED students.
With the eventual merging of the two classes, the number of non-SED juniors enrolled in AP Chemistry grew from 25 in the class of 2017 to 54 in the class of 2025, suggesting that the detracking of Chemistry for the class of 2025 likely influenced more students to sign up for AP Chemistry––86 (54 juniors and 32 seniors) total students took AP Chemistry in the school year of 2022-2023, the largest enrollment in AP Chemistry for juniors and seniors in M-A’s history.
M-A also had the largest number of students taking the AP Chemistry exam last year: there were 51 students in the class of 2024 who took the exam. These 51 students had taken the first merged Chemistry-P course in 2021-22 as sophomores. Among these juniors, 22 students (43%) received a four or five on the exam, the highest number of students receiving such high scores in the last eight years.
Despite these successes, the number of SED students enrolled in AP Chemistry has not changed. None of those enrolled in AP Chemistry from the class of 2024 were SED students. In the past eight years, only 5 out of 407 students enrolled in AP Chemistry were SED students.
The same year that AS Chemistry was removed, AS Physics was removed as a science offering for juniors and seniors. Students interested in Physics were previously given the option of taking Physics, AS Physics, or AP Physics. However, after the 2021-2022 school year, the options became Physics, AP Physics 1, and AP Physics C. Taking Biology and Chemistry in ninth and tenth grade fulfills all UC/CSU A-G science requirements, but a third year of science is recommended by the UC/CSU system. Eleventh and twelfth graders not retaking Chemistry or Biology are able to take any of the Physics course offerings, AP Chemistry, AP Biology, AP Environmental Science, Marine Biology, or Human Biology. Students taking a physics course offering often make up a fifth to a sixth of total third-year science enrollment.
The report divided progression from tenth grade Chemistry to eleventh grade Physics into two tracks. AS Chemistry students taking AS Physics, and Chemistry students taking Physics. The report says that the enrollment in the first track of AS students was slowly dwindling—dropping from 73 in the 2015-2023 school year to 23 in the 2019-2020 school year—while the second track was gaining numbers—increasing from 22 to 60 during the same period. It also noted that there was little movement from non-AS to AS—only five students moved from Chemistry to AS Physics in the five year period.
Few SED students participated in the Chemistry to Physics pathway, and when they did, they typically chose non-AS Physics. On the other hand, non-SED students demonstrated fluctuations in course preferences. . In the 2019-2020 school year, 50 non-SED students took AP Physics 1, a decrease from the previous year’s 69 students, but an increase from the 2017-2018 total of 28 students.
There was a consistently high pass rate across all levels of physics classes, with the highest grades reported in AS and AP physics courses. From 2013 to 2021, the percentage of students earning a “D” or below remained less than 8%, with most students in every track scoring either an “A” or a “B.”