All students are required to master specific concepts and when they do they move on to a higher level. In Des Moines, the middle school advanced classes have been ended so that all students have the opportunity to move into more advanced classes when they demonstrate the ability.
Not all Iowa districts have done away with advanced classes. Among the districts that switched to the new grading method, Waukee offers accelerated English, math and science classes and Ankeny also offers advanced math and science courses at the middle-school level.
Des Moines’ new grading format will open doors to students who have been shut out of advanced classes in the past, district officials said. However, some parents question the quality of instruction provided to the district’s top students.
“In theory, you can tailor (instruction), but when you have such a diverse learning population, as a teacher, I think you would be naturally inclined to help the ones that are struggling more than advancing the students that can move through the information more quickly,” said Natasha Newcomb, whose son took accelerated classes last year at Harding Middle School.
Newcomb began an online petition urging the district to return advanced classes to the middle schools. Fifty-eight parents and community members signed the document.
District officials say advanced students can be served within the traditional classroom. One exception: accelerated math classes will remain.
In addition, seventh- and eighth-grade students in Des Moines will continue to have access to accelerated courses at Central Campus, a magnet school near downtown Des Moines.
The decision to scrap advanced stand-alone courses in the middle schools represents a shift in philosophy, said Noelle Tichy, director of teaching and learning for secondary schools.