Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A "D" Average Good Enough to Graduate From SPS?

An introduction item on the School Board agenda for tonight would change how students graduate from SPS. They can graduate with a "D" average instead of a "C" average. Additionally, athletes will not have to maintain a "C" average to play and can play with a "D" average. Here is an article in the Seattle Times today. This move is endorsed by most principals and counselors but not most parents AND students surveyed. (I have to wonder if principals and counselors would try to push back on a measure that the district endorses?) The measure will be voted on by the Board on Oct. 7th.

From the article:

But district officials, who plan to talk about the proposal at a School Board meeting tonight, insist they're not watering down expectations, and the change would mirror what most other districts require.

"We are, in fact, increasing rigor," said Susan Derse, a principal on special assignment who headed up a staff committee that made the recommendations.

One example, she said, is the fact that the district upped the ante for graduation about a year ago when it started counting an E (failing) grade when calculating grade-point averages, which it hadn't done for seven years. And for two years, students have had to pass a state test to graduate, making it less important to have a C requirement.

"All those other requirements students have to meet ... make sure the diploma isn't meaningless," said Wendy Krakauer, head counselor at Roosevelt High School.

Counselors also hope the change would encourage some students to stay in school because they would have a greater chance of graduating and some would be more willing to try challenging classes.

First of all, the WASL is in disarray. Second, having to pass the WASL negates getting passing grades? Third, how would getting a "D" average encourage you to try more challenging classes? "Hey, I'm getting a "D"; AP here I come!" Obviously, I don't agree with this measure.

The district says no other large district in the state requires a "C" average.

From the article:

A 2006 survey by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association turned up roughly 150 schools which required a C average for athletes, said Executive Director Mike Colbrese.

The staff committee making the new recommendation, however, said athletes shouldn't be treated any differently from other students.

Right and that's why all students should graduate with a "C" average.

From the article:

"The policy was put into place in 2000, one way the late Superintendent John Stanford sought to raise expectations. At the time, many feared the new requirement could keep hundreds of students from graduating.

That never came to pass, in part because the district stopped counting failing grades, and allowed students to appeal if their average fell below a C. In June 2008, the district says, it granted C-average waivers to 95 students.

In 2004, a previous attempt to do away with the C average for graduation provoked opposition from the Alliance for Education, the nonprofit that raises money for Seattle schools.

This time around, the alliance's president and chief executive officer, Patrick D'Amelio, says there are many ways to push for rigor, and while his group is watching what district leaders do, he doesn't think the move away from the C average will erode standards."

Once again, parents' opinions mean very little.


Sahila said...

WOW... is about all I can say...

and I guess that with kids graduating with Ds, we can all clap each other on the back, satisfied that we are doing a good job making the dream of Excellence for All (every student achieving) a reality...

Interesting way of dealing with issues.... cant solve the problem, so lets change the end result with the stroke of a pen (by dumbing things down) so that, on paper anyway, we no longer have a problem...

Very creative....

And this from someone who isnt into testing/standards and who wants her kid to be able to learn as fast/slow as is 'normal' for him...

Sahila said...

you see, its not really a problem with the system, the curriculum, the teaching materials, the mode of delivery, the class sizes.... its really because we have incredibly stupid children ...

Robin Pierce said...

Raise the stakes but lower the standards? Sure, makes sense... If this passes, a year or two from now the G-J and the principals will be patting themselves on the back for raising graduation rates. At that point, I hope someone will take the time to identify what percentage of kids are graduating with a D average. This is not the way to create a world-class school system. We all deserve better. (And my children aren't even in the system yet!)

SPSMom said...

"I have to wonder if principals and counselors would try to push back on a measure that the district endorses?"

Would you contradict MGJ if she held the key to your office door? I would not.

adhoc said...

This has nothing to do with "encouraging kids to take more challenging classes" or "having kids stay in school". It has all to do with politics. The politics of raising the graduation rate for SPS at the expense of our children.

Once again the children lose.

just-a-mom said...

Is a "D" Average good enough to graduate from SPS?"

In the words of Glee: "Hell to the no."

I am all about supporting underachieving students, but this isn't support - it's laziness.

dan dempsey said...

I am sure that just like the High School math adoption 19 out of 19 principals will endorse this idea also .... so that must mean it is a Great Idea.

Look for at least four board members to say "Gee 19 out of 19 principals like it. I will vote to approve."

Look for a $$$ bonus for the Super for raising graduation rate. "Excellence for All" in action.

Maureen said...

I oppose the D requirement for all students, but I especially oppose it for student athletes. Yes I understand the argument that sports keep some kids in school, but the fact is that they are students first and athletes second and that sports take time and energy. If the kids can't keep their grades up, they need to take that time and energy and spend it on their school work.

If the C requirement encourages the coaches to put some resources into helping those kids keep their grades up (as I'm sure it does now) then all the better.

hschinske said...

Oddly enough, I actually think the move makes some sense. I'm not a big fan of grades in general, but if you give them, they should mean something stable. A D, after all, *is* supposed to be a passing grade. Requiring a C average to graduate is far more likely to lead to grade inflation than to a raising of standards.

Now, I don't think a D average is anything to be at all proud of, but WHEREVER you set the bar to indicate "the lowest you can manage and still graduate," that's not going to be something to be proud of. It's not supposed to be. Just barely scraping through isn't supposed to be average, so it makes sense to me to indicate that with mostly D's. That way you save the C for what it's meant for -- to indicate mediocre work -- and let the B's and A's indicate work that actually is quite good.

Helen Schinske

wseadawg said...

Pure corruption, Neo-Liberal and Broad style.

Florida "raised" its "graduation rates" by doing this and similar steps, including by counseling struggling 10th and 11th graders to take GEDs, thereby getting those kids "off the books" so they didn't keep down graduation rates, but instead, makes it appear that the NeoCon and NeoLib "reform" CON-ARTISTS are actually producing results.

This is the straw that breaks the camel's back. If MGJ supports this, she needs to go and we need to start talking about recalling School Board members.

In the world I grew up in, we called this "CHEATING," and supposedly CHEATING isn't allowed in school.

What kind of an example are we setting for our children with nonsense and book-cooking like this?

Folks: Pay attention to all the supposed "research" generated by The McKinsey Group which the district will try to rely on. That's where MGJ's ridiculous "class size doesn't matter" BS comes from, and McKinsey also once touted and propagandized the incredible performance of a revolutionary and cutting edge 21st century business for all its modernity, efficiency, and shareholder returns. That business was called ENRON.

It's way, way past the time for people to WAKE THE HELL UP!!!!


God help us if this SI and Board are the best this community has to offer to run our schools.

SPS mom said...
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SPSMom said...

What is interesting is that the College Bound program requires a "C" average to qualify for financial aid. So students with a D average, who would qualify for $$$ funding thru this program will no longer be able to do so.

Sahila said...

Which SPSMom, if you are of a cynical bent, might also be part of the point of the exercise....

There's an ongoing drive to cut labour costs, there are not enough good jobs for everyone coming out of college, so lets raise the financial bar and keep more hopefuls (especially minority groups) out of that professional loop...

With more unqualified people in the labour pool competing for fewer jobs, labour costs will go down...more and more people will be forced to take minimum wage offers - work for less (and be grateful) or lose the roof over your head...

rugles said...

One thing is not clear to me. If your average is a D, isn't it likely that you have a few Fs somewhere? You don't get credit for failing a class do you? And so wouldn't they be likely to be short of credits to graduate anyway?

Or is D minus used in place of an F?

Melissa Westbrook said...

No, parents and students do NOT support the proposal. No matter how many were surveyed (and I took the survey), the majority said no to this idea.

From the article:

"One example, she said, is the fact that the district upped the ante for graduation about a year ago when it started counting an E (failing) grade when calculating grade-point averages, which it hadn't done for seven years."

So Rugles, they didn't used to count E's for GPA and I don't think you got credit for an F (or E or whatever letter is assigned).

Helen, I get your thinking but no matter what, it seems like districts are trying to raise their graduation rate without actually doing anything differently to help students.

My question is: what's a rigorous D?

steve in west seattle said...

My first reaction was it's a terrible idea. After I read the Times article, it made a bit more sense. Requiring a C-average to graduate is not the norm and they routinely give waivers allowing D-students to graduate now. Do we want 30% of our students not to graduate High School. Unless there is grade inflation, there are a large number of students on the lower end of the curve. I think this could even be considered "Transparency" since they allow D-students to graduate now.

I think that athletes should be required to maintain a C-average. Playing sports is a privilege, not a right. Student athletes are supposed to be role models for the general population.

I think pushing marginal students into AP classes is bad. When I was in high-school, there was a lot of pressure to take AP classes because they look good on your transcript. That resulted in 1/3 of the Physics and Chemistry sections being labeled "AP". In turn, the classes were barely above grade level, and the advanced students coasted through without getting challenged or learning the material and academic rigor need to succeed in college.

TechyMom said...

So, we're going to move to Core 24 and lower the grade required? You're required to take 5 more classes, but you're not required to actually master the material in any of them, or the ones you were taking before. Mile wide, inch deep. Again. Ugh.

wseadawg said...

After reading the article again and thinking about it, I suppose Steve in W.S. is right. If a D is passing, then like Harium says, how can we not graduate them? I, like others, know the district will use this to tout higher graduation rates and manipulate the data to make themselves look good, but, technically, a D is a passing grade.

Of course, too many D's are given, and have been for decades, to children who are actually failing, but that is the teachers' and principals' call to make.

I'm probably kidding myself here, but if a D were all that was needed to pass, would the grade scale be used more accurately than today? You can't tell me there aren't kids getting C's, who should be getting D's or F's right now. So is is possible a D could stand for what it once did? I.e., below average and barely passing, right above failing? I'd probably rather have that than kids getting an average C, who can't read, write, or do math, because noone wants to keep them from graduating.

With the lack of accountability so deep already, are we kidding ourselves to think the current system is tethered to reality to begin with? I'm not sure.

gavroche said...

But, as someone else here has pointed out, doesn't a "D average" mean the student is also getting a number of Fs? How does that add up to a passing grade?

Sahila said...

I dont know.... when I went to school in New Zealand - igh school and university - grades were given in bands...

D was pretty much accepted as a fail on the quality of work turned in...

(wonder why there is no E????)

I think you got F(ail) for work not completed/handed in

Seems to me that a nine-level grading system gives more than enough room to stratify quality of work - why would you need to expand that to add Ds?

SolvayGirl1972 said...

I'm missing something...couldn't a student have a D Average getting Ds in ALL their classes (something I think would be difficult to do)—including PE? Why would they have to have some Fs?

I have to say, that if a D is passing, then it's passing and if you pass and fulfill the other requirements (passing the WASL? is that still one?) then you should graduate. However, I do see this move as a bit of 'sleight of hand" on the District's part to pump up their graduation rates.

All I can say is that my family's current belt-tightening and sacrifice to put our child in private high school is worth it. I'll eat beans daily if it means I don't have to subject her to this failing system.

hschinske said...

I think the term "D average" is used for anything under a 2.0, so a mixture of D's and C's would get you there. It's also possible to fail a course that wasn't strictly necessary for graduation, and have that zero figured into your GPA. I can't remember whether retakes replace the old grade or are averaged with them, but if it's the latter, an F and a C would average to a D.

Helen Schinske

SPSMom said...

A "D" average WITH all the credits gets you a diploma. So a "D" average minus one credit does not earn you a dipolma until you make up that credit. So I guess the question in reverse is, if you have all your credits and a "D" average, why would you be denied a diploma?

I checked with CA Ed Board, and there is no min. GPA to graduate, just a list of required classes AND the requirement to pass an exit exam. In MA, required classes, no min GPA and no exit exam.

So, actually I think what SPS is really saying is you need to pass all your classes in order to graduate.

TechyMom said...

I still think we should make everyone pass the GED to graduate.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I just chatted up my senior on this and his reply? "Isn't D passing? Don't you get credit for a D? If so, then they should be consistent and let kids graduate with a D average."

I was taken aback (not that he would agree with me; I'm his Mom after all) because yes, that is logical. West Seattle had it right on that point.

Somehow it still feels wrong because it is downward, not upward. I still think kids will say, "Yay, no effort hardly at all for a D, so why go for a C if all I want to do is graduate?"

It's a dilemma.

beansa said...

I don't know. In college, a D is still passing but you can't graduate with a D average.

It's one thing to pass a particularly difficult class or requirement with a D than to get a diploma for D-average work across ALL classes.

adhoc said...

Is there a D+ D and D- ??

Just kidding....

seattle parent said...

School Board Members are being given faulty information for their vote on the D15.00 Grading & Credits Policy-

From the district's School Board Work Session 4/29/09 PowerPoint: "Subcommittee was unable to find another public school district in Washington that requires a 2.0 GPA for graduation." The Grading Recommendations Table (attached on the agenda tonight) even states: "No other high school in our state has a 2.0 GPA requirement for graduation."

This was also what the district was quoted in the Times as saying, but it is NOT true. Just see Bellevue's or Federal Way School District's home pages, under "graduation requirements".

Our School Board members rely on correct information from the district, but we continually find that the district have not done their jobs.

From the Times, the district does acknowledge that "a number of" districts require more credits to graduate than Seattle. Actually, Seattle and only one other district (Inchelium, with only 220 students) hold the record low of only 20 credits to graduate. The majority of the other 250 high districts with high schools require either 22 or 23 credits.

gavroche said...
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Kathleen said...

Wow. That is just ridiculous. I can't imagine how the district can support an idea like this. Next thing they'll be saying is kids don't have to go to school at all - why bother since they don't have to pass any of their classes! Jeesh!

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Gavroche...your link is about a school in Bellevue IOWA, not Washington!

seattle parent said...
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seattle parent said...

Gavroche's link to Bellevue, WA is good (but not the second article, from Iowa!).

Here's the info. from Federal Way School District requirements:

To qualify for graduation from high school in the Federal Way School District, students must receive a passing grade in each of the required courses. All students in the graduating classes of 2000 and beyond must complete required courses with at least a “C” or “C-” grade in order to qualify for graduation. (The equivalent of 90 class periods of 50 minutes each equals 0.5 credit toward graduation.)

Seattle Parent
(not to be confused with Seattle Citizen)

gavroche said...

Okay then, even Bellevue, Iowa has higher graduation standards than Seattle! ;-)

(okay, I admit it, I was googling too fast.)

gavroche said...
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gavroche said...

(Let's try this again:)

Seattle Citizen is right. Here are Bellevue's requirements:

Students must earn a minimum cumulative 2.0 grade point average (GPA) in order to receive a diploma.

dan dempsey said...

It is NOT inconsistent to have a "D" receive credit and require a "2.0" to graduate.

A "D" is a below average grade but a steady diet of such performance should not be awarded a diploma. When courses are taken for a second time if a higher grade is achieved it replaces the lower grade.

The SPS has continually failed to follow their policies D44.00 and D45.00 preferring social promotion to the effective interventions they are supposed to provide.

Is anyone surprised that when over 25% of entering 9th graders could not score above level 1 on the math WASL in grade 8 that social promotion has reached graduation as well?

Only in the upside down world of the SPS could this be seen as anything other than lowering standards.

Look for the spin-misters to craft great speeches for the board members to deliver as they vote for this ridiculous proposal.

More about this fiasco here.

Rengetsu said...
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Dumbfounded said...
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Dumbfounded said...

How many other districts in the state are as large and as dysfunctional as SPS?
UW (at least in the past) decides on admission based on numerous factors--one being the grade inflation of the high school. They determine this by comparing college freshman year GPA with a student's exiting HS GPA. Many of our students, particularly on the southside will not be ready for college; they will have a rude awakening when they get there--just like I did (as I attended a school where you could easily earn a B if you showed up & kept your mouth shut.
People continue to feel pity for poor kids who come to school already behind in academics and the do them further injustice by watering down the curriculum & inflating grades. Failing students & retention is not necessarily the answer but SPS is much too far away from any grading / expectation alignment across the district to make this kind of decision. Always putting the cart before the horse! And again—alignment--not standardization!
Ask the superintendent & board how teachers / schools currently determine what an A paper should look like or an A answer to a math problem should look like (and they should look similar in ANY of the schools at that grade level, right?). They won't be able to give you an answer. There is nothing in place ACROSS the WHOLE district that encourages this kind of quality assurance. In addition, many teachers use a variety of grading systems which complicates matters even further. But the main problem is that A work & even A effort in one class does compare to an A in another classroom. This is something the district must initiate. If we're worried about "low-skilled" kids getting discouraged when their work is not up to par, then maybe we ask teachers to make grades equate to 50% effort & 50% skill (once we determine what skill should look like or include). Regardless of what the grading system(s) look like, kids WILL rise to our expectations, and many will also lower themselves to lower expectations. Closing the achievement gap? More like making it wider!
This district needs to quit shirking their responsibilities (& blaming the teachers & kids) because the kids who suffer the most are our most vulnerable ones. I just resigned after 5 years of teaching wonderful kids. I worked my tail off. But this continued top-down management makes it difficult for teachers, parents, & students to affect any real changes. So if the district thinks they know it all, then they better take responsibility for the repercussions of their poorly-planned decisions . . . and quit acting like they're listening to us when we all know they're not.

BullDogger said...


Just to motivate you with keeping up on the private school payments.
1) SPS will lower the graduation rqmt.
2) SPS has the lowest number of units rqd. in the state to graduate.

But wait... that's not all.

These policies also redefine the high school credit definition to justify those SPS high schools who are the lowest classroom time providers in the state.

I've paid that tuition before. Hopefully this helps you stay focused on your task. May I suggest too you avoid vacations and new cars.

Maureen said...

Can someone explain the classroom time requirements to me in a clear and concise way? I know that a new standard was voted in this year: ESHB 2261.SL that says (p 7):

"(2) Each school district shall make available to students the
following minimum instructional offering each school year:
(a) For students enrolled in grades one through twelve, at least a district-wide annual average ... of one thousand hours which shall be increased to at least one thousand eighty instructional hours for students enrolled in each of grades seven
through twelve and at least one thousand instructional hours for
students in each of grades one through six according to an
implementation schedule adopted by the legislature..."

and (p 9)
"(5) Each school district's kindergarten through twelfth
grade basic educational program shall....consist of a minimum of one hundred eighty school days per school year"

If you count up the days on the SPS calendar, you get 175 days of instruction. This does goes up to 180 if you add in Professional Development, Conference and days between sememsters, so maybe they are counting those as instructional time?

IF we give them that, then each instructional day for 1-6 should last 1000/180= 5.6 hours, so say 5 1/2 hours with 1/2 hour for lunch -- I would guess that the elementaries generally almost meet this requirement. (Am I correct in thinking that lunch doesn't count as instructional time, or is SPS offering longer school days than they have to?)

For grades 7-12, 1080/180= 6 hours of instructional time. It seem like the HSs generally (Hale? Nova?) meet this.

What about the MSs and K-8s? I think they vary alot from school to school.

Can anyone tell me if I'm thinking about this correctly (especially saying we have a 180 day year and that 'instructional time' is the full day minus lunch--so not counting time between classes, recess etc against the instructional time total.)?

Also, is there a formal process for getting a waiver from these requirements? Is there a paper trail to follow for such waivers? Thanks!

steve in west seattle said...


I didn't read all 68 pages, but only sections 1 - 2 are in effect now. Sections 1 - 2 are feel-good speak, all the real requirements will phase in over the next 4 years. The hours you're referencing is in section 104 (p 8 of the PDF)

sections 101 through 110 and 701
through 710, which become effective 09/01/11

Melissa Westbrook said...

Heard Dr. Enfield on KUOW's The Conversation this noon trying to explain this idea. It was a little funny when she said the goal was to get all students college-ready and the host asked her how this did that.
She also hedged a bit on athletes getting to play with a 1.0 and said it applied to all kids in school activities. Is that true for drama and music? I hadn't known that.

They did interview Michael DeBell and he said he had not decided and wanted to hear from the community. So there's your opening to talk to him. He did say one troubling thing which was that this was a package of proposals all in one. I'm wondering if there is division among the Board, they might break them out individually and vote.

Charlie Mas said...

This proposal is indefensible. The story about it in the Times has 435 comments on it.

The vote will show which Board members are dedicated rubber stampers and which were only playing at rubber stamping.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

What's a vacation?

BullDogger said...


Private school parent vacation tip #1... drive to Dick's for a burger instead of taking the bus.

I'm with you about this rubber stamp business. In addition I think the way these policies are packaged reminds me of an Omnibus spending bill in congress.

Most of these issues could be decoupled and discussed publicly as seperate issues. Instead this has been crafted behind closed doors, discussed in committee where public comment is taboo (and agendas get released 2 hours before start time). The board then deals out the issues between themselves. This is extremely smart strategy on the part of staff. The public was left out by design. I know someone who tried to get on a subcommittee (all staff) and was informed by district legal counsel they had no right to it but could request subcommittee notes. It took 4 months to get the notes after many requests.

I was at the meeting last night. My money says the die is cast unless people start getting loud.

BullDogger said...


Classroom time is a mixed bag but I'm fairly informed regarding the high schools.

Per the basic education requirement the HS's on average are supposed to have 1000 hours per year of supervised time not to include meals (some minor other stuff). Nathen Hale is the lowest in the district of the compreshensives (well below 1000) but Garfield and RHS make up for it in the average.

Up until about 9 months ago a high school credit was 150 of "planned instruction" that all districts defined as class time. When parents challenged SPS for not delivering 150 at 8 of 10 schools district staff & legal Counsel worked OSPI for a new definition. The term "planned instruction" now includes passing time and the new policy proposal is rewritten in those terms. It removes all reasonable controls for a lower limit to classroom time. As proposed a school could schedule 2 days a week of late starts and deliver 120 hours of class time while still meeting the policy. It's in irresponsible move by a district that failed to enforce the present policy with the sites.

Finally with classroom time there is the relationship to $$ provided by the state. Apportionment rules say there must be 50 minutes of classroom time, on an annual average, for every 60 minutes they pay for. In SPS this only makes a difference for the students taking 5 classes or less because that's all the state pays for (levy covers the rest).

Take note that at parent request the state auditors office will be reviewing the HS students taking 5 classes or less in the next few weeks. Parents have complained and think the small number of hours in class means the state over compensated the district from $175-350K per year.

gavroche said...

Interestingly, the Seattle Times editorial board has apparently come out against the D proposal:

Seattle Public Schools' 'D' students -- Seattle Public Schools should not lower the minimum grade-point average to graduate from high school from a C to a D.

This is somewhat surprising since the Times more often than not has been one of Supt. Goodloe-Johnson's biggest cheerleaders.

But apparently some of the Supt and District's proposals are too indefensible even for them.

I see this proposal as the equivalent of the Superintendent and District waving a white flag of surrender. They can't figure out how to inspire and help more kids graduate with solid grades, so they have given up and have come up with a superficial solution to boost graduation rates.

Whoever votes for this on the School Board will deserve an F.

seattle parent said...

Hey, I thought "E" was for Excellence!!

Seriously, though, I do NOT agree with Harium that if a D is given for credit, it should be consistant for graduating with a D average. For whatever reason (sickness, teacher issues, taking an advanced class, etc) a student might get a D in an individual class occasionally & still be given a credit for it, but it's a totally different story to get a D average for all 4 years & still be allowed to graduate.

The district admitted at the School Board meeting that apparently only 119 students couldn't graduate in 2009 because of the C ave. rule (previously announced as 166), up from 47 from 2008 when N grades instead of F's were still allowed. Last year was the first year that F's were counted, so I'm surprised that there weren't more than 119.

Then again, with the waiver procedure in place for the past 2 years, the majority of these students were able to graduate anyway!

adhoc said...

Nathan Hale Instructional time.

180 days per year X 6.5 hours a day = 1170 hours per year

Deduct lunch
.5 hours per day for lunch
180 days per year X .5 hours per day = 90 hours per year

Deduct Late start
1.5 hours late start X 32 times per year = 48

Deduct early release
2 hours per day X 4 days per year = 8 hours

Total hours a Nathan Hale HS student spends in their class is 1024 per year. Though some schools do have more instructional time, the current district requirement is 1000 hours, so Hale is actually exceeding district expectations.

The only thing I haven't counted that may need to be counted is the 2.5 hours per week that Nathan Hale students spend in "Mentorship" (90 minutes per week) and "Reflective Scholarship" (60 minutes per week). While this may be "instructional time" it is not a core class or elective. It's time spent making up homework and tests, discussing issues with a mentor teacher, and silent reading.

If this 2.5hours per week were deducted then Nathan Hale would fall far below the district minimum of 1000 hours per week.

I wonder what schools, particularly Hale, will do when the district raises instructional time to 1080 hours per year?

seattle parent said...

Adhoc & Maureen,

There are actually two different "instructional hour" academic requirements which apply at the high school level. The district is intentionally misrepresenting and watering down the definition of one of these, negatively impacting our student's education.

The first one is well known, a "district-wide annual average total instructional hour offering" of 1000 hours (to be upped to 1080 in the new legislation of the Basic Education Act). This only has to do with the length of the school day, and requires that our students must be at school (on campus) for 1,000 hours every year. In the RCW is a definition of this "instructional hours" which specifically applies to only the 1,000 hour rule. It basically includes ALL time spent at school except for lunch (ie passing time between classes, assemblies, etc. all count). Therefore, most Seattle HS students are fine (I'm not dealing with site-based early releases, such as Hale's)- Without counting lunch: 6 hours per day x 177 days = 1,062 hours (note: full waiver days are NOT allowed by the state to be counted in the 1,000 hour calculation).

The other requirement is a major problem in 8 out of 10 of our comprehensive Seattle high schools and is being ignored by both the district and the School Board. WAC 180-51-050 defines a high school credit as 150 hours of "planned instructional activities approved by the district."

The problem is the WAC does not include a more specific definition to "planned instructional activities" (and neither does the proposed School Board Policy D15.00). Ask yourself this- What should count as instructional time towards a specific credit in biology, algebra or Spanish? Would you think it would be the actual time spent with a teacher, receiving instruction about that specific subject?

The district says "No", and the School Board is about to pass Policy D15.00 which will also allow a very skewed definition of "instructional hours" to be allowed. In April, 2009 the district released a report which allows the district to use the definition of "instruction" from the 1,000 hours requirement for the 150 hours per credit as well. Thus, ALL time spent at school/on campus will be counted for the 150 hours as well, except for lunch. (why have this rule, then?)

"But, wait, there's more!"... The district's report also allows time toward the 150 hours to include time spent AT HOME, including the 3 full waiver days (not even allowed by the state in the 1,000 hour calculation), early release days from the district, time spent AT HOME for students not taking the WASL (this year, that will be 5 days), time spent in non-credit earning activities (such as assemblies, advisories, extended breaks for second breakfasts) and where attendance is NOT even required (such as so-called tutorials or office hours which only a few student take advantage of, while the majority use it as extended break time).

ALL of this time is to be included in the high school credit requirement, according to the Seattle School District. So not only do we have the lowest credit requirements in the state (only 20), we will soon allow a D average as acceptable to graduate, while even counting hours students sleep at home to be used toward those credits!

(PS- Most other districts use the proper definition of "instructional hours" to reflect the full time equivalent (FTE) student requirements which the state uses to fund our schools. The definition of a FTE by WAC is "at least 50 minutes of instruction or supervised study." That is an understandable definition and Seattle should use it also.)

BullDogger said...


I'm looking at the data from 2008-09. N.Hale is at 985 hours.

129 days at 390 minutes/day
3 days at 330 minutes/day
13 days at 270 minutes/day
32 days at 300 minutes/day

Subtract 30 minutes for lunch each day (177) and the math works

They didn't actually offer the lowest number of hours in 2008-09, it was Cleveland at 982 (really a tie)

If the state lets these schools count the 3 waiver days towards the 1000 hours then they are right at 1000.

Do you think that would just be luck or are some sites aiming to deliver the absolute minimum?

seattle parent said...

BullDogger & Adhoc,
The state Compliance (Form 1497) that all districts must sign annually is very clear that waiver days do NOT count towards the 1,000 hour total:

"Minimum 180-Day School Year for Grades 1 and above (RCW 28A.150.220) (WAC
180-16-215) - The school year consists of no less than 180 separate school days for students in Grades 1 and above and is
accessible to all legally eligible students. If your district has a waiver from the 180-day school year requirement, the district-wide annual average instructional hour offering must still be 1,000 hours"

****(if this is true, then why does the district say that waiver days count as hours towards the 150 hours per credit requirement when our kids aren't even at school?)

Keep in mind also that the 1,000 hour rule is a district-wide average among all K-12 schools, so schools which actually give students the most time possible (like Garfield) bring up the Hale & Cleveland averages.

By contrast, the 150 hour per credit rule is on a school-by-school basis, and schools not delivering the full 150 hours are supposed to apply to the state annually for a waiver.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I asked for the seat time count years back (and I have the 6 inch high stack paper to prove it) because I thought something was off. I was very surprised at the length of lunch in different schools (25 versus 50 minutes) as well as the time in the day. But the district has to average, overall, 1,000 or so minutes so it generally works out.

But yes, if my kid was getting less seat time than other kids, I'd be unhappy.

BullDogger said...


It is not easy to figure out. Yes, the district does average but like you say, if there is a large variation do you want your kid at the school with the least hours.

FYI...RHS is second highest, Garfield is highest. As an example of the scope between least and most Garfield got out of school last year on June 19th. For a Nathen Hale kid they would need to go to school until August 3rd to get the same classroom time as the Garfield kid. There are several other schools (much less affluent) almost as bad as NH.

This is why the district wants to change the policy. With a stroke of a pen they can bring all schools into compliance with their own policy with no real effort expended towards making education better.

Sounds an aweful lot like "D" grades to graduate and the 75% graduation goal in the strategic plan. Make it easier to graduate and, voila, goal reached (and bonus paid).

I smell a rat in MGJ's office.

Donald said...

As a grandfather of two children in the school district, I would ask the district to invite the Red Chinese educators to look at this plan. They might take an interest in laughing at the idea quite loudly. I am laughing quite sadly at it myself.

adhoc said...

With the hard and fast move toward standardization in this district, I am curious as to why "instructional time" is flying under the radar? Why would MGJ allow such a large discrepancy between schools? If there were one thing I'd like standardized it would be this.

Certainly, given the choice I would choose a school that offered more "instructional time" over less. However we live in the NE and though we are only 2 miles from Roosevelt we are to far away to get in. We certainly can't get into Ballard or Garfield either. We could probably get into Ingraham, but the school wasn't so attractive to us. So that leaves Hale, with its 984 hours of instructional time.

Given that many of us really don't have much "choice" in where our kids go to HS, I would think that at least we should be able to count on the same amount of instructional time across the board?

I'm not so bitter about it all though, because some how, some way Hale is very competitive amongst SPS high schools.

They have the third highest WASL scores of any comprehensive HS in the district. Higher even than Ballard, and just a few points lower than Roosevelt.

Their SAT scores are also competitive with Ballard, Garfield and Roosevelt.

They have one of the highest graduation rates amongst SPS high schools (89%) and one of the lowest drop out rates.

77% of their students go on to college with 1/3 of the graduating class getting into the top 100 colleges in the nation.

Once in college Nathan Hale graduates have the smallest drop in college freshmen gpa when compared to high school gpa and they remain in college and graduate at a higher percent than any other high school in the district.

They do all of this in an ethnically diverse environment, and with integrated classrooms (no stand alone honors classes) and only a few stand alone AP classes.

And for what it's worth, Nathan Hale meets AYP in ALL groups and categories.

seattle parent said...

Can you post the link to the report you are referring to, with after HS grad GPA's etc? That is some interesting data that used to be published on the Seattle Times School Reports section, but was dropped about 3 years ago.

"Once in college Nathan Hale graduates have the smallest drop in college freshmen gpa when compared to high school gpa and they remain in college and graduate at a higher percent than any other high school in the district."

adhoc said...

Seattle Parent, I found this info on the 2008 Nathan Hale annual report.

Here's the link

adhoc said...

And the rest of the info I found here

seattle parent said...

Thanks, Adhock, but
I was hoping for a report with actual data listed for all the Seattle HS's, re: after graduation. Does anyone have a link to this, as the last data I have seen was from 3-4 years ago?

With the links you did provide, I did notice that Hale of course should be doing well, with only 19% Free/Reduced Lunch, compared to the district's 40%! Of all the comprehensive high schools only Roosevelt has lower FRL, at 18%. On the other end, Rainier Beach & Cleveland have 64% FRL each, and their WASL scores reflect this.

Dorothy said...

The Nathan Hale Report says "AMONG the schools with the smallest drop in college freshmen gpa when compared to high school gpa" a little different from ad hoc's wording. And as far as I can tell, that's from studies done at UW on UW students who attended WA state high schools. They do this to aid in enrollment decisions, they "curve" gpas from prospective students as a result. I found some information about that by reading some Seattle Times archived articles. Like Seattle Parent, I cannot find a current chart. I do not believe that SPS has any such study on graduates in general. Please let me know if one exists.

As for this D to graduate or participate, I have to agree with those who say D is passing, albeit low. I wish the vote was on individual grading policy changes. I suspect that the eleven point score system will actually improve most people's grades and minimize this D average issue. What I would like would be to implement the eleven point scale for a couple years, then revisit the D average for graduation or participation.

Natehc1984 said...

Seems to me like the Superintendent just wants to make herself look good. I thought school was about teaching people, not making sure more of them graduate without learning anything.

Jan said...

My problem with many of the comments to this post is that everyone seems to assume that every student who "wants" to graduate can, in fact, maintain a C average. What about those students whose BEST work may be a C, and who will occasionally get a D in a subject that is even harder for them than usual. Under the current policy, they don't graduate either -- and no, I don't think having a "waiver" process where they have to take their case to some arbitrary group of school administrators is a fair solution. Also, now that we count "Fs" as part of the average, what are you saying to the student who, for whatever reason in a bad year, fails 3 or 4 courses, but in general, struggles to maintain a "C" average. Drop out? I guess that gives us "Excellence for All who Remain!" I understand some parents with potentially high scoring kids may have trouble motivating their own children, and want the district to raise the bar so they don't have to do so, but I think you need to think about the far worse consequences for kids on the other end. You have just deprived them of even the LOWEST academic credential -- a high school diploma -- just to make sure your child has enough pressure (that you don't have to supply) to get a C average.

adhoc said...

Good points Jan. That does make me think about the other side of the argument.

Sahila said...

On Crosscut today (23 Sept), Knute Berger espousing the validity/usefulness of D grades...

Sahila said...

I disagree with Jan that lowering the average required to graduate assists children who are struggling...

I think most kids are capable of average to great work... we ought not to be tampering with the grading system to accommodate issues, we ought to be changing the way we assess children's progress.

In my alternative/best of all possible worlds, we wouldnt have a grading system at all to measure progress; we'd be using narrative, self-reflection, we'd measure progress over a much longer, more individual period of time, we'd establish a (normal) baseline for each child and measure our success in helping them gain knowledge against that baseline, and we'd factor in issues such as challenging family circumstances, one-off challenging events that might have taken them off-focus for a while.

To me, Grades are more about how the system succeeds or fails to educate children, how children succeed or fail to fit in with and master a system, and NOT about how well children are learning...

As usual, we have it arse over kite, but either way, changing the criteria (dumbing down) to change the numbers doesnt solve the problem of the system not serving the children... it really just hides HOW BADLY the system (we) doesnt serve our students. We already have enough self and systemic delusion (spin) going on - its another giant step backwards to move down this path.

adhoc said...

I am sympathetic to Jan's argument as I have had a (very bright) student that has struggled to maintain a C average in a couple of his classes. Mostly due to his lack of motivation, and being a young teen (forgetting to turn in work, not paying attention in class). In one case it was due to poor instruction and materials (math) but luckily, we were able to provide intervention (get tutoring and work with him 1:1 at home) until he was at grade level. Lucky for him his home is a stable, two parent, middle class, home, with parents that are very involved and supportive with his education. But many kids don't have such a support systems. If a student goes to school every day, and is working hard, should they be denied a diploma because they have a D average?

On the other hand A D average is very very low. That would mean that they even got D's in non academic classes (PE, band, art, pottery class, woodshop). Further, in our experience earning a passing grade is more about just doing and turning in your work, than it is about the actual quality of your work or your mastery of the skills. If a kid just completes and turns in all of their assignments, and homework, even if he has not mastered the skills, he/she will slide by with a B, or at worst a C. So A D means that the student really is not doing the work, and not applying themselves in any way. Should that student earn a diploma?

Dorothy said...

I think Jan's argument is that we cannot extrapolate our experiences with underperformance in a few classes for a limited time (ie, getting a few Ds and Fs) with kids who truly are maintaining a GPA less than 2.0. Even in ad hoc's example (which is very typical in my experience, an otherwise capable child going through a period of unmotivation or other reason for markedly lower performance in a class or two or for a semester or two)sounds like the child had come no where near an average GPA of under 2.0.

Have any of the commenters here really had an 11th or 12th grader with a GPA hovering so close to 2.0 that the threat of not graduating was actually a useful tool and helped them maintain the 2.0? For the vast majority, this change seems like something that wouldn't affect us at all.

More troubling is the point that Seattle Parent seems to have researched and been on top of. The change in hours or seat time. While all the grading changes did get substantial community engagement, this change in definition of hours has not and should not be bundled in.

Sahila said...

Dorothy - I get that, but I dont think the solution is to broaden the grade average system to ensure graduation of more kids...

I think we should change how and what we assess and broaden the substance and definition of what we deliver as 'education', so that less 'academic' kids - whether by actual ability/disability or by cultural dissonance, are given the chance to succeed at what they are good at... each child has gifts and each should be given the opportunity to find out what they are, to hone those gifts and skills to a degree of mastery where they can use them to carve out a good place in the world for themselves...

And that means we have to cut the cords with the military-industrial complex that's currently dictating and moulding the education system...

Frankly, I think its crazy to make most kids learn a bunch of information which most of them wont ever use again in their lives...

Higher math and myself pretty much parted company in my third year of high school; my strengths were in languages and literacy. I have never had to use higher math and yet I have had metaphysical experiences which were very much about higher math/physics... it was no handicap to me that I hadnt taken on board some of that knowledge in an academic/intellectual way... my experiences and TOTAL UNDERSTANDING of higher math/physics/fractals/holgraphic principles came through a very direct 'knowing' and 'seeing'.... cant give you the equations (which are not relevant to my life path anyway), but I do know and can explain the concepts to anyone who wants to listen... and the additional benefit/spin-off I received in learning about higher math etc in this manner, is that I immediately was made aware of how this information is linked to all aspects of life - it extrapolated itself INSTANTANEOUSLY in a much more direct/immediate/clear way than it would ever have been able to coming to me through text books, lab experiments or teachers...

My point being that we limit ourselves/our children by resorting to such narrow definitions of learning and education and assessment.

Sahila said...

And a final point to underline my previous concept...

I believe these principles of math and science (all of those 'academic' subjects) are teachable through movement, music, art, physical activity, cultural norms such as story telling...

If we find the ways appropriate for each child to impart that knowledge, I believe very few children would require there to be a "D" available to assess the quality of their learning/performance...

Once again, we have a system to which the kids have to adjust, rather than having kids to which the system has to adjust....

How ridiculously insane and illogical is that?

adhoc said...

I don't believe that at age 15, 16 or 17 most kids know what their "life path" will be yet. How could they know what skills they will need down the road? Heck, I don't think most college freshman are all that certain about what their future holds. I know I wasn't.

I appreciate that schools require kids to be well rounded, and "learn a bunch of information", and take and be exposed to a large variety of classes, even if they don't use all of the skills they master.

Exposure to a wide variety of subjects and classes could also peek the interest, or open the mind, of a student who otherwise might have never been interested.

hschinske said...

You don't have to get a D in everything to have below a 2.0. If you get half C's and half D's you have a 1.5. If you flunk a class or two, you can end up with under a 2.0 even if you have some honors-level grades in there.

Moreover, it doesn't take many missing assignments to put a kid who's doing C work or above into D territory in a particular class. Anyone who watches Source knows that. I am puzzled by the idea that substandard students would find it easy to turn in all the work. It hasn't been my experience that very many students at all find that an easy thing to do.

Helen Schinske

Sahila said...

"substandard kids"?????????

Dont you mean kids that are struggling to deal with a system that's not geared to their needs?

Anonymous said...

As always, Helen, you are the voice of reason. Coupled with Adhoc's comment about teenagers rarely knowing their life's path, and I think you've got the exact reason why it might benefit some kids to allow a "D" average for graduation.

I happen to know some good, decent kids who got dealt pretty crappy hands in life. While they went to their classes, mostly, their real focus was on things like keeping mom sober, or making sure their stepdad didn't beat them (again), or working enough hours to help feed the family-things that most of those posting on this blog (or any others, I'd venture) have much first-hand experience with.

Turning in assignments and studying hard for tests doesn't necessarily get to the top of the list for these kids. And before anyone starts up about how in that case, the district is failing them, think for a moment that maybe they're not SHARING with their teachers and counselors the issues they are dealing with.

So here you have kids with a "D" average, because some days he was busy avoiding going home to a drunk mom, or she spent too much time working instead of studying-the answer is to throw them into the street without a diploma? Really?

I've seen comments here about "dumbing down" and kids not getting into college-the kids this policy is likely to affect aren't GOING to college-but MAYBE, with a high school diploma, they can get a job so they can move out of their miserable homes!

In an ideal world, these kids would have other adults in their lives to mentor them, help them navigate school, get the family social services so that their homes become safe havens. But that doesn't always happen, because teens, well, they often don't trust adults.

I think in one of the articles/comments on this issue, I saw that the number of kids affected would be somewhere around 150-if so, then we're not talking about wholesale graduation of scores of underperforming kids. Just a few. Unlike the failure a D average might seem to the family of a priviliged, safe-home, middle-class kid, for those who have had to grow up too soon, a graduation with a "D" average might be a life-saver.

Sahila said...

agibean58 makes a lot of assumptions about what contributors to this blog know about under-privileged, challenging, even life-threatening home situations... and she/he uses those assumptions to discount other peoples' views/opinions...

adhoc said...

Agibean, I'm sympathetic to what you are saying. I really am. I grew up in a home much like the home you describe (alcoholic mother, no father in the picture, low income, and I had to work all through high school) - So I know what you are talking about 1st hand.

Despite my circumstance I worked hard in HS, and I graduated with a decent GPA. And though I had no support, I went to college (though I didn't graduate).

Honestly, if a kid doesn't do the work, doesn't make an honest effort, doesn't show up (for whatever reason, even a terrible home/life environment) should they get a diploma? Isn't a diploma something that you earn? Something that you have to work for? It's not a freebie, or a given. It represents a students accomplishment and a mastery of skills taught.

What would a diploma mean to an employer if it were not based on accomplishments, and it was just given to every kid that merely showed up (most of the time)?

I'm already disappointed in SPS for doing away with finals in high school (at least at the HS my son is attending). There is no accountability. No need for kids to work hard or to master skills. Kids know they can just show up, turn in their work (no matter the quality), and pass that class. If they make a minimal effort they will graduate, and even have a decent GPA.

Is that really to much to ask????

I really don't think we should dumb it down any more.

hschinske said...

I did not say, much less mean, substandard kids. I said substandard students. Basically I meant "students who are currently getting lousy grades and possibly not on track to graduate." The possible reasons for that are many, including everything Sahila has been saying about students' real needs not getting met by the system.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

Adhoc, I think it's great that you found your way out of the situation you were in. But, having tried to help others in similar or worse settings, all I'm thinking is that some of them, despite WANTING to do well and get out, don't have it together enough to do so on their own.

Others have been saying that if you are passing-which IS true if you have a "D", then you ought to get the chance to graduate. I am thinking specifically of two kids, who are good, decent, well-intentioned kids, but who just didn't manage to get that "C" average for graduation. One managed to work things out with the help of some relatives and has her GED and will soon start community college. The other is not so fortunate.

Do I think a diploma would solve his problems? Hardly. But it might have been a step in the direction he needs to go.

About finals-maybe you want to check around-they had finals at Franklin a year ago. On the other hand, the public schools where I cam from did not give finals at all when I was in school. I was in classes with kids who went to Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth and MIT, so there's the possibility that we've come to rely too much on finals as a measure of a school's worth.