I have a confession to make. When I was an LFHS student, I voluntarily “de-tracked” myself. I diverted from the preordained Quest-Honors-AP path because I wanted a challenge. You read that right: detracking made me a better, stronger student.
On April 4th, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff citizens will go to the polls to elect four new members of the District 115 School Board. One of the most contentious issues in this election has been the debate over removing academic course prerequisites, commonly referred to as “de-tracking”. As a former student who is now an educator, I believe that sharing my personal experience as well as some of the prevailing research might help calm parents who are worried about their children’s future. In a nutshell: by de-tracking, LFHS is on the “Right Track.”
I began my de-tracking path after sophomore year. While my peers were taking AP US History and AP Chemistry, I took US History during summer school and enrolled in AP Physics — a course filled with seniors who had already taken Calculus. I didn’t believe myself to be naturally gifted at either math or science, so I worked twice as hard as the other students and sought help from my teacher. I was, to use Ms. Neubauer’s words, “not entitled” to take AP Physics. Yet the challenge paid off: I earned an A and scored a 5 on the AP exam.
Senior year, I de-tracked further: I dropped down a level in math and omitted science entirely. In addition to taking AP Literary Criticism and AP Political Science, I took two one-semester electives — Humanities and Contemporary Issues. Doubling up on reading- and writing-intensive courses was the obvious challenge. The unexpected benefit was the chance to engage with students I never would have encountered had I stayed on course. Contemporary Issues was a discussion-based, student-centered course open to all grade levels with no prerequisites. We learned to listen to, debate with and respect one another. I had the privilege of experiencing a diversity of viewpoints that is usually only available in college seminar courses, if at all.
De-tracking enriched my high school experience and set me up for success at college, work and life. I became a more curious, self-directed learner willing to embrace challenges and seek out new ways of understanding. The LFHS teachers, administration and school board have opened up these opportunities for all students by reducing or removing prerequisites and creating a new hybrid schedule. Now, students can challenge themselves by taking higher-level math, interdisciplinary political and environmental science, or a course on Chicago writers. Instead of “deep-dive” double period courses being limited to only a few AP science classes, every LFHS student and teacher benefits from two days of extended course blocks.
These benefits of these academic changes are, to use the latest buzzwords, data-driven and research-based. Studies show that removing prerequisites raises the level of academic achievement for all students, primarily those seeking an extra challenge. It encourages all students to learn problem solving and critical thinking skills, develop original ideas, and pursue their passion for certain subjects. De-tracking does not lower academic standards or teaching quality, as many parents fear. Additionally, research shows that teachers who teach “deep-dive” courses tend to focus more on small group work and inquiry-based learning. These methods promote deeper understanding and higher achievement across the board.
These positive changes have yielded tangible results. AP course enrollment is up nearly 60%, indicating that more students are embracing the challenge of college-level coursework. They are succeeding — 95% of students pass their AP exams and earn credits before they even enter college. ACT scores are also at an all-time high. More importantly, students are applying their academic knowledge to solve real-world problems. Just a few weeks ago, three current seniors presented the results of a multi-year research project into the economic and environmental viability of installing solar panels on the roof of LFHS. When I witness that kind of dedication, commitment and passion, it confirms my belief that LFHS is a world-class educational institution.
The Final Four’s opposition to this forward momentum will lower student achievement and increase exclusion. Their blatant disregard for facts should give you pause about what kind of education they want to construct for our children. Their willingness to engage in ad hominem attacks should beg the question, “should they represent District 115?” Their insistence that the only things that matter are tax dollars and ACT scores is closed-minded and damaging to the future of LFHS, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff.
The April 4th election is a another crucial call to our citizens.This election is in fact a vote of confidence in a world-class education for all. Lake Forest is on the Right Track. Let’s keep it that way. I enthusiastically support the first four candidates on the ballot: Tom Nemickas, Sally Davis, Ted Moorman, and Dave Lane.
Adrianne Miller Oldham
LFHS ‘04; University of Michigan, B.A. with Highest Honors, Social Science and Latin American & Caribbean Studies ‘07; DePaul University, M.Ed. Bilingual-Bicultural Education and Secondary Education History and Spanish ‘15
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