New D86 science sequence sparks heated debate
Last updated 11/26/2019 at 4:10pm | View PDF
The decision to reorder the sequence of science courses at Hinsdale Central High School beginning next school year has proven to be a combustible subject for some residents. But District 86 officials stand by the plan as one that better aligns the district’s two schools and is in step with prevailing wisdom.
At Monday’s board meeting, board members approved the program of studies for 2020-21, offering both the traditional biology-first option and the new physics-chemistry-biology (PCB) track. The school will go exclusively to the PCB sequence the following year, with earth science content woven throughout courses. Hinsdale South has followed the PCB sequence for several years.
School officials say the PCB sequence follows Next Generation Science Standards established by a national consortium. Carol Baker, assistant superintendent for academics, detailed the new Illinois assessment that all juniors in the state will take this spring as reflective of this approach.
“Chemistry, biology, physics and earth science will all be represented in the test,” she said, noting that the recommendation for the new sequence from district administrators and science department chairs took this into account. “We specifically talked about the need to infuse earth science so that all of our students would have a background in earth science because currently only students who choose to take earth science as a course are receiving that.”
In a letter disseminated to the District 86 community last week, board President Nancy Pollak said another benefit is achieving parity between Central and South.
“It will also help advance the first strategy listed under Goal 1 (student growth and achievement) of the district’s strategic plan, which is aimed at ensuring that ‘course and instructional units include common critical competencies, aligned assessments between the two high schools and multiple measures of success’,” the letter read.
Board member Cynthia Hanson said Hinsdale South has had a lot of success with the sequence, despite what some perceive.
“I think it’s a misconception that the PCB program at South doesn’t accommodate high achieving students who’ve gone on ... to very excellent schools in STEM and engineering,” she commented.
But community members expressed misgivings with the plan during public comment.
Resident Milan Mrksich, professor of biomedical engineering and chemistry at Northwestern University and parent of two Central students, said the reason biology has traditionally been taught first is because it’s the least math intensive.
“I think altering that model has real consequences for student preparedness in going into college,” he said. “We’ve got to be mindful of what it takes to be a top-10 high school in the state and not sacrifice those rankings, which bring so much attention and value and impact on home prices for other, perhaps, agendas.”
Resident Linda Burke characterized the roll out of Physics in the Universe course for freshmen as premature.
“(It) is still unplanned, that we don’t have enough teachers to teach, and we’re not sure it corresponds with any college expectation or standardized test outside Illinois,” she said.
Board member Keith Chval took umbrage at the notion that the district has a hidden agenda, contending the design of the new sequence has been deliberate and transparent involving highly experienced district science teachers in developing the plan.
“To say that (the process) has been rushed, that there’s no expertise behind it, that’s there’s been no work behind it, that’s just silly,” he said.
Hanson said the time is right for a fresh vision.
“This district is at a point where we’re ready to change and look forward and try to figure out how to move our entire district forward,” she said.
Information about the changes to the district’s science program is available on the district’s website at https://d86.hinsdale86.org.