Thursday, May 31, 2007

One idea at a time - Promotion Policy

No one, not even Mr. Manhas, is blind to the dysfunction in Seattle Public Schools. Unfortunately, no one, particularly Mr. Manhas, has done much to address it. Perhaps they don't have any ideas about how to address it.

Well, I'm all about solutions. It's not enough to complain; one must also offer remedies. You may not think these remedies are any good; in which case I welcome opportunities for improvement. I don't know if anyone in a position to do so can or will take these ideas forward, but I will offer them anyway. Let no one suggest that these problems can never be solved.

IDEA #5 Promotion/non-promotion policy.

When I look around Seattle for examples of success in closing the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to Standards I see a recurring theme. It isn't cultural competence. The schools that show success all set and maintain high expectations for all students. The Board already has policies that mandate this, but such a Policy would be unenforceable even if the Board had some means of enforcing Policies. What could the Board do to support setting and maintaining high expectations for all students?

One step would be to adopt and enforce tight promotion/non-promotion policies. Such policies already exist, but they are horribly obsolete. They reference assessments which are no longer administered and committees that no longer exist. Seattle Public Schools is supposed to be a Standards-based learning system. As such, a student should advance from the third grade to the fourth grade upon meeting the third grade academic expectations - not upon the last day of school in the third grade.

Whatever benchmarks are adopted, they should reflect the grade level expectations (such as elementary school progress reports), be easily discernable data (such as elementary school progress reports), and should provide the student and the student's family with ample advance notice of impending non-promotion (such as elementary school progress reports). Obviously, the progress reports will do well for elementary students.

The key, of course, would be to leave the determination of progress towards Standards to the teachers but to retain centrally the job of notification of promotion/non-promotion. The district would have to apply it to all grade levels starting with kindergarten.

The district appears to have already adopted a de facto policy on promotion/non-promotion in high schools: students advance to the next grade upon the completion of every five credits. A student who takes five years to complete their 20 credits just stays there at the school until they are done. It doesn't seem to make much difference because students are all persuing an individualized curriculum and classes routinely include students of multiple grade levels.

It is trickier in middle school. The students get letter grades which do not necessarily reflect progress towards Standards. But they can't just stay there until they complete their credits because may advance in some subjects and not in others.

This is when we address ourselves to what we will do for those students who do not meet the academic expectations at the end of the school year. While holding them back has not proven effective, neither has promoting them. We need a third choice.

I have, for some time now, advocated for a new program - separate from the regular classes - designed to quickly bring these students up to Standards and then return them to the general education program. This program would be extended, intensive, and enriched. I won't describe it again here. It is unclear to me if the Board can develop and introduce this sort of program or if that responsibility falls to the Superintendent. In either case, the focus of this idea is for the Board to support the District's efforts to set and maintain high expectations for all students by developing and implementing tight promotion/non-promotion policies.

So, what do you think? Would this innovation help close the academic achievement gap? Would it be worth the time, cost and effort? Could this idea be improved? Is there a better way to accomplish the same ends?

11 comments:

classof75 said...

With ERLs and standards- we should have a clear idea in grade school what kids are making reasonable progress and what students are not.

If students are passing homework and classwork they should be ready for middle school.

However, that isn't the case.

Year round schools would give students several opportunities during the year to be supported during the breaks so they can rejoin their class.

It is important to know what we are looking at.
Are we looking at students who are behind in one subject by perhaps a year or two, or students who are way behind in most subjects?

Having a child who had weak/missing teachers for several years in a row( in grade school), made more difficult by her learning disabilties, I am very interested in a true resolution to this problem.

We really need to look at , why aren't they succeeding?

If we dont' have any idea, we run the risk of them getting behind again, even if the pullout school program, helps them catch up.

From what I have read we arent sure when and where we are losing kids.

We should know all along the K-12 path- where kids are moving to other districts, to homeschool, to ?
From this report, it doesn't show that we know the percentage of 9th graders who make it to graduation
http://www.edweek.org/ew/toc/2006/
06/22/index.html

We currently have summer programs and special ed teachers- but frankly- my experience has been that those attract teachers that are less experienced/able to handle a challenged population.

TO set up a program that would truely make a difference we would need to compensate and attract teachers in a way that would recognize the challenges of the position.

Anonymous said...

Funny how Charlie loves accountability for everyone else. When it comes to his kids in APP... he belly aches about even the most minimal requirement for their promotion, that is simply "passing" the WASL one time in elementary school (like the top 50% of all the state's students). If your kid can't pass, they're either not well served in the program, or not "gifted" (gasp). WASL isn't the only measure, but it's the one everyone else is measured by.

Wouldn't we also want APP students to be required to test in the top 1% annually on the WASL (not just barely pass with a 3) to be "promoted" to the next grade in this program? I'm sure there will be plenty of excuses about why this isn't the case.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'm sure Charlie can defend himself but I'll jump in. I said it before; it's easy to throw barbs behind the mask of being anonymous. If you want to do that, at least sign your name.

It is unfair for students in the Spectrum and APP programs to be the ONLY students in the district required to take the WASL (if they want to stay in their program). The district has to give the WASL but only 10th graders have to take it. Everyone else can opt out and there may be some of those people in Spectrum and APP (and it has nothing to do with whether their kids can pass or not).

I'll give you one example about why some APP and Spectrum kids might not get 4s on their tests. A teacher told me (and the Board) about a kid who had a question on the WASL, "Where is the moon?" and the "correct" answer was the sky. The student told the teacher it was wrong; it's in the atmosphere. Many of these students simply don't think in the ways that these questions were designed.

Anonymous said...

>many of these kids don't think in ways these questions were designed.

Wow! Who does?

Seems the kid you mention simply got a different wrong answer. And for some reason, we think he should get a special consideration. Too gifted to get the right answer sounds a little priviledged don't you think?

Roy Smith said...

The small problem with this notion is getting everybody on board with what the standards ought to be and how they should be measured. If anybody can put together a meaningful standard and way to assess it that the alternative schools would support, that APP would support, that the special education community would support, that the parents who wish SPS was the Bellevue school district would support, and all (or even most) of the other various interest groups out there will support, I will be more than a little impressed.

With regards to the WASL, I know an awful lot of people who regard the WASL as absolutely useless for evaluation of anything.

Anonymous said...

Yes, especially when it's spelled "privileged".

Charlie Mas said...

I think that anonymous was making reference to an old proposal for a re-evaluation of placement for students in Spectrum and APP. This proposal was severely flawed in a number of ways and was eventually withdrawn and replaced with a better one.

I opposed the proposal because it was overly dependent on students' individual WASL score - an idea that the writers of the WASL warned strongly against in the technical report - and because it used percentile rankings of WASL scores. I don't imagine that there is a large audience of people interested in this sort of thing, but the WASL is a criterion referenced test. It is designed to give a sort of yes/no answer about proficiency. As such, percentile rankings of scores is not appropriate. It is, in fact, meaningless. This topic is also covered in the technical report on the WASL.

I do not equate the rejection of the inappropriate use of a meaningless measure as a rejection of accountability. That is, at least, my perspective.

The academic expectations for students in Spectrum and APP are that they will demonstrate mastery of grade level material. If we are to rely on the WASL to any extent, then a "level 4" score on the WASL does that. My contention, then and now, is that we expect students in these programs to attain that "level 4" score or otherwise demonstrate mastery of grade level material.

Clear and definite academic expectations is a critical element of standards-based reform. It is therefore inappropriate to set the expectations and then, after the student meets that expectation, to disclose a different, higher expectation.

I don't think that I "belly-ached" about this. I think that I made a number of sober, cogent arguments against the initially proposed process, much as I have summarized them here. In the end, this line of reasoning was found superior and the new re-evaluation of program placement process makes more proper use of the individual WASL scores.

In either case, that was not about accountability or promotion - it was about the appropriateness of the placement in the program. The District re-evaluates all special needs students to confirm their continued need for special services - Spectrum and APP are no different in this regard, nor should they be.

Of course, this may all just seem like "excuses".

Anonymous said...

Charlie, I agree with you. In another post, I mentioned that I think teacher's should be empowered to order up whatever they feel a student needs, including tutoring paid in full by the district. I've always hoped for more lab classes in middle and high school, similar to the self-paced math classes so common in college. You work at your own speed, drop by the lab for tutoring, and take tests as many times as needed until you've mastered the work. Help is there, and the student is in charge. There's no social stigma attached to self paced pass/fail classes of this design. It's purely about learning.

I think this model would be an ideal fit for middle school and high school math and language arts. WenG

Anonymous said...

WenG- you wrote "teacher's should be empowered to order up whatever they feel a student needs, including tutoring paid in full by the district."

Where do you anticipate the funding coming from?

Heidi

Anonymous said...

Heidi - Honestly, I'm not sure where to begin finding the money, but my first thought is to shift if from other parts of the budget. I'm not an auditor, but I suspect there are SPS expenditures that can be cut that don't impact the classroom.

Even to me, this initially sounds like the meat axe approach to budgeting, but then I remember what I just read about the history of T.T. Minor. How the New Schools Foundation granted $1 mil a year, and how SPS eventually threatened closure of Minor near the expiration of that gift. I never heard anything about the goals that were bundled with the gift, if the curriculum and training would be transferred to another school, or if the whole project was deemed a failure. I'm left with the impression that SPS can't effectively manage the gifts it receives, and going forward, I think they'll need gifts and partnerships to do what they need to do, to bring every school up. If I was a prospective parent or teacher considering SPS, I'd be concerned about their failure to use a multi million-dollar gift to help one school.

With the history of T.T. Minor fresh in mind, I'm comfortable finding ways to cut money from district administration and any programs that don't directly help students. SPS says closures will bring more money to the classroom. I don't know if they've written a budget that backs this up.

I'd like to see levy monies go straight to tutoring and classes where students can take self-paced classes to quickly come up to grade level in math and reading. WenG

Charlie Mas said...

The District's greatest expense is teacher salaries. When the District talks about shifting money around, that has to mean teachers. The District has been talking about "targeting class size reduction" for some time, but they have yet to do it. It would look something like this:

School A and School B each have about 350 K-5 students.

School A is generally filled with high performing middle class White and Asian students. The District funds this school for two general education classes per grade with the contract maximum in every class: 12 teachers.

School B is generally filled with underperforming minority students living in poverty. The District funds this school for three general education classes per grade with nine or ten students fewer than the contract maximum in every class: 18 teachers.

I offer this example for illustration purposes. It has been simplified by not including the impacts of special education or bilingual programs in either school - programs which they both are likely to have.

The families at School A are, of course, perfectly free to raise money for class-size reduction, but that money isn't coming from the District.

The reduced class size is the primary incentive the District provides teachers to work in School B. There are others.

How would y'all feel about this sort of targeted class size reduction?