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Demystifying Detracking: Answering Your Questions

5 mins read

Cover image: Students in Erin Walsh’s MCLV class work together to analyze Elie Wiesel’s Night.

This Wednesday’s board meeting may determine the fate of detracked classes, a decision that has polarized our community. There has been a flood of opinions, speculation, misinformation, and poor communication surrounding the issue. The M-A Chronicle reviewed common points of contention and discussed them with students, teachers, and members of the pro-tracking advocacy group Students First.

The Board is expected to vote on course offerings for the upcoming 2023-2024 school year. M-A began detracking in 2018, two years before transitioning to distance learning from 2020 to 2022. English, Chemistry, and Physics have been detracked for two full years while Biology (detracked gradually) has been detracked for five years, three excluding the pandemic.

The only classes that have been detracked at M-A are freshman-year Biology (detracked in the fall of 2018), first-year Chemistry and Physics (detracked in fall of 2021), and freshman-year English (detracked in the fall of 2021 to Multicultural Literature and Voice). 

According to the SUHSD FAQs on course offerings, in English, students reading below a sixth-grade level take one of two lower-level courses. Students reading at a sixth or seventh grade level take the same English class as their peers but have an additional support class to ensure they can access ninth-grade English at the same level as their peers. 

There are no current plans to detrack math, foreign languages, or any other courses. 

For more information regarding the District’s report on detracking, see our breakdown here.

The District is not planning to remove Advanced Placement (AP) classes. 

No AP classes have been removed recently. In the 2020-2021 school year, M-A added a new AP course, AP Psychology. 

More socio-economically disadvantaged (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.

In ninth grade English classes, the report highlights that in 2019, only 48% of SED students achieved a C- or higher in second semester English I. In 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%.

According to the presentation given to the Board of Trustees on September 20th, “There were not more socio-economically disadvantaged (SED) students who chose to take AS English II after [MCLV started].” 

The same holds true for AP Chemistry. While enrollment for AP Chemistry has tripled, 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 five out of 407 students enrolled in AP Chemistry were SED students. 

M-A college counselor Mai Lien Nguyen said, “Colleges always consider applicants within the context of their school. For example, if a high school doesn’t offer AP Studio Art, colleges won’t penalize a student for not having taken that course. Similarly, if our school doesn’t offer AS courses at certain times—or if we didn’t offer them at all—colleges can’t penalize students for something they can’t take or isn’t available to them.”

Though many schools have remained tracked, several other schools in the Bay Area have detracked classes. Sacred Heart Prep, Los Altos, Mountain View, and Palo Alto High School have detracked English for ninth-grade students, and Irvington High School in Fremont has detracked freshman science classes. 

Other high schools have even implemented AP restrictions. Irvington High School freshmen are not allowed to take AP classes, and sophomores are allowed to take one AP class—AP World History, and if they qualify, some AP world language courses. 

According to former AS English I teacher Susie Choe, the detracked Multicultural Literature and Voice (MCLV) has been structured to “scaffold” and accommodate students of different achievement levels. Scaffolding provides optional support for students through tools like sentence starters. Advanced students can opt to not use the sentence starters and students who need them can take advantage of them.

“Everyone benefits from sentence frames. Just because something is scaffolded doesn’t mean you have to take that scaffold and that scaffold is only there if you need it,” Choe said. 

Choe gave the M-A Chronicle two examples of real essay prompts, one from 2022 in MCLV and one from AS English I. 

MCLV Prompt

AS English 1 Prompt

The MCLV prompt provides students with some central ideas to choose from whereas the AS English I prompt requires students to identify a process. The MCLV prompt includes examples of figurative language.

Choe said, “I think the MCLV class might have four to five weeks less of a book that they read, but they do skills that whole time really mastering finding evidence, really mastering how to write an introductory paragraph like those base level skills that I was talking about that everyone needs.” 

According to Science Department Chair Lance Powell and AP Biology teacher Patrick Roisen, the main changes in biology and chemistry were a result of the new Next Generation Science standards no longer focusing on memorization. The old AS and Grade-Level Chemistry classes both did not follow the new standards. 

Sophomore Shawnak Shivakumar said, “Going from MCLV to AS English II was definitely initially a very difficult transition.” 

According to MCLV teacher Erin Walsh, while past MCLV classes used to have some non-timed and typed essays, the curriculum structure is still changing and adapting to students’ needs. Currently, MCLV essays are timed and written in class. Walsh said, “At this point in MCLV and moving forward, all essays are timed and written on-demand.”  

Sophomore Paige McGaraghan said that MCLV did prepare her for AS English II. “It feels like we’re using a lot of background knowledge from MCLV for all the stuff that we’re doing this year.”

After the removal of AS Chemistry, enrollment in AP Chemistry increased to an all-time high of 98 students. Students First organizer Linda McGeever attributed this to over-enrollment in AP classes caused by detracking. She said, “I think AP class enrollment is increasing because the honors courses were taken away and it’s this unintentional incentive to overload on AP classes because the grade level courses are not challenging them significantly.”  

One way to test preparedness for AP classes is by looking at AP test scores. The M-A Chronicle reported in a previous article, M-A students in last year’s AP Chemistry course scored higher on the AP Exam than the previous year. There was a 14% increase in the pass rate, a 4% increase from the previous all-time high. However, last year’s scores on the AP Chemistry exam increased nationally more than the increase in M-A’s AP Chemistry pass rate, making it difficult to attribute M-A’s increase to detracking.

To read more of the M-A Chronicle‘s reporting on detracking, visit the Chronicle’s Detracking Page.

Arden Margulis was a junior in his second year of journalism at the M-A Chronicle before he tested out of high school. He was the M-A Chronicle's Webmaster when it was a finalist for the Online Pacemaker. During his first year, Arden wrote a two-part series on Paper Tutoring, which won First Place News Story from Santa Clara University. Arden was a finalist for Writer of the Year from the National Scholastic Press Association. He also won First Place News Writing from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for an article on FERPA and M-A's No Privileges List. Arden focused on news and legal research along with sending Public Records Act requests to government agencies. He was most proud of an editorial he worked on about M-A's treatment of sexual assault survivors. He left the M-A Chronicle to intern at the Almanac and go to college earlier.

Celine Chien is a junior in her second year at the Chronicle. She is the current Editor-in-Chief, a Design Lead for the Mark, a copy editor, and reports on detracking and community news. Celine is on M-A's debate team, Leadership-ASB, and loves to cook and spend time with her family.

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