Thursday, October 22, 2009

Board Postpones Vote on D Average for Graduation

The Seattle PI online reports that at the Board meeting last night, they voted 7-0 to continue the the graduation requirement with a C average. Here's a story link.

Here's what Cheryl Chow had to say:
"(The data) very clearly is stating that when students start getting lower grades in the 9th grade, by sophomore year they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "We need to get our PR better because a lot of work has been done for close to two years on this issue. It's unfortunate that a headline made us back up and take more time because that many more kids are going to drop out of school."

Michael De Bell also noted the staff's hard work.

Okay, but clearly the public and parents didn't like the idea. What does it say - to an employer - if we change this policy? So, maybe we didn't all understand the underlying reason for the position but we all see the public face ramifications. I'm glad the Board recognized that point.

They did vote to give middle school students high school credit for some classes and to go to a weighted GPA for high school. (Although I just found out that UW "unweights" the GPA because they don't accept them.)

This was odd:

"Board member Harium Martin-Morris, who proposed the amendment that allowed the school district to continue with a "C" average, said it is important to note that this policy is the first reform policy accomplished under the new administration of Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, and he hopes there will be more."

How is it a reform if it is a continuation of what we already do and the staff she directed to change the policy couldn't sell it to the Board or the public?

I note that only one person on the speakers' list last night spoke about the SAP. That speaks volumes to the Board. If people were that upset or wanted to advocate, they would take every opportunity they could to tell the Board. (Or maybe they figured out speaking at School Board meetings isn't worth it. I'm still surprised that the list wasn't heavy with people talking about the SAP boundaries.)

36 comments:

SPSMom said...

They urged people not to sign up to testify about the SAP on the board Web site yesterday. It has since been removed.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Weird. I wonder why not.

adhoc said...

I thought this (D average, high school credit for middle school work, 11 point grading system) was being voted on as a package? Glad it wasn't and that each component was voted on separately, I just hadn't heard that was happening.

Tamara said...

Isn't there a public hearing on the SAP on Nov. 9?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes from 6-8 at the Stanford Center.

Charlie Mas said...

There were a number of odd things around this vote at the Board meeting.

First, all of the "grading policy reform" was a single package and a single vote. There was an amendment to the motion that added back the "C" average requirement. The rest of the package went forward and that was what Director Martin-Morris was calling a "reform policy". I'm not sure what that meant.

Second, Director Chow ranted for six minutes and essentially laid out her perspective of the Board job in which she explained why, in her view, the Board should never vote "No" on anything that comes before them. I guess that's why she never did. You should really listen to what she said and make damn sure that you NEVER elect anyone who thinks this way. It should be the first question that every Board candidate is asked at any forum or on any questionnaire. It should be the first question that you ask them if you ever get the opportunity to ask them a question.

Third, after Director Chow explained, for six minutes, why she thought the amendment was terrible, she voted for it.

Fourth, after the staff made everyone wait an extra year for the elements of this vote saying that it all had to be done together as part of an integrated package of high school reform, they accepted the amendment saying that it wasn't really about grading policy but about graduation requirements and could be done separately in the Spring when they come back with updated graduation requirements.

Fifth, this this hasn't gone away. It will be back.

Sixth, along with the retention of the "C" average requirement, this amendment restores the practice of not counting failing grades in the GPA.

All together, although this was supposed to be a demonstration of progress and reform, it was instead a demonstration of how warped and dysfunctional the whole system is and why it delivers warped and broken product.

I sat next to Chris Jackins during the Board meeting and did what I always do - a sort of MST3K style running commentary. He really shouldn't let me sit next to him because he's laughing and shaking and so can't write the voluminous notes that he always takes (he was on page 21 during the grading policy vote). He suggested that I make a copy the Board meeting video, add the voice over, and re-release it. Would anyone really like to hear that?

adhoc said...

I'd pay for a copy, Charlie!

And thanks for all the info on the meeting.

adhoc said...

Question: I assume we now have the 11 point grading system. Will students have to have a C average or can they now graduate with a C- average?

SPSMom said...

So middle schoolers CAN earn high school credit now? When does that go into effect? What classes will qualify, Alg I and II. Foreign Language?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, I would love to hear it.

But why didn't they keep the failing grade?

I must be dim but I am not following their thought process. I spoke with a counselor yesterday who said they always have kids who just squeak by with the WASL, the Senior Project, and almost a C average and then get a waiver (which takes more time for counselors). It made me wonder if one reason why counselors and principals want it is because waivers take time.

Charlie Mas said...

adhoc, even with the 11-point scale, students - for now - require a 2.0 in both the core and cumulative GPA to graduate. Look for the eventual compromise in the spring to settle at 1.7, a C-.

SPSMom, yes, students can now request high school credit for high school level courses that they take and pass in middle school. This applies primarily to math classes and world language classes, but it could extend to some science classes (particularly for APP students), and maybe more. The specific exclusion of the Washington State History class has been removed from the policy, so maybe that too.

You can make your petitions immediately. I submitted two the same day they passed the policy.

Don't look for a rational explanation for anything that comes out of the High School Reform Steering Committee. The whole thing is a cluster.

Seattle Parent said...

Charlie,
Check out the new WAC 180-51-066 which limits HS credit for MS WA History classes.

Also, I seriously doubt that the district will give retroactive credits to MS classes taken previously. This was in the discussions at the worksession in late May/early June that it would be only for classes taken beginning with 2010-2011 year (I was wondering what would happen with the 2 year world language credits)?

Also, check out the newly added link to the Counseling Services Manual (accessed now through the Graduation section):

8.10 High School Credit to Middle School Students
o Middle School Students Enrolled in High School Level Courses
• The School Board has the authority under state law to issue high school
credit for middle school courses if the Board determines the middle school
course to be equivalent to a course offered at a high school. Currently, no
middle school courses have been determined to be equivalent to high school
courses. This is anticipated to change for the 2010-2011 school year.

There's always a Catch 22---

Dorothy said...

"The specific exclusion of the Washington State History class has been removed from the policy, so maybe that too."

What? Students have always received "credit" for the state history requirement. While this is a graduation requirement for high school, kids typically get it in 8th grade. Middle school transcripts have a box or something to check off that the requirement was met. High schools record this somehow. Currently, students who did not local middle schools, ie, homeschooled or moved from out of state, are supposed to make this up during 11th grade American History, to earn the "credit". I put credit in quotes because there really isn't any points associated with it, it's more like meeting an obligation, like the service hours requirement.

I know this from having homeschooled 8th grade SS, from talking to the homeschool resource center and other homeschooled kids, including ones who went to high school and were suddenly told they had to write an extra paper to graduate.

gavroche said...

Cheryl Chow said: "We need to get our PR better because a lot of work has been done for close to two years on this issue. It's unfortunate that a headline made us back up and take more time because that many more kids are going to drop out of school."

So many things are wrong with this comment.

The District "needs to get its PR better"?! Is that all that Chow and the District really care about -- getting the right 'spin' in the media in order to sell their bad ideas and "reforms" to the public?

I've heard that in the two years since Maria Goodloe-Johnson was hired, the District has hired as many as 9 people in the central admin. office just to do PR. If this it true, this would be yet another example of central admin bloat. (And they don't appear to be doing a particularly good job.)

"It's unfortunate that a headline made us back up and take more time..."

Here Chow reveals the extent to which she and her colleagues are motivated by politics and public perception
("headlines") and not best practices, common sense, community input and what's best for our kids. The only surprise here is that Chow is apparently admitting it.

It's disturbing that it takes public embarrassment and controversy to make the District pause and reflect.

On the other hand, anything that can make this Board and Superintendent "back up, and take more time" before making a decision, is a good thing in my book. So bring on more "headlines"!

Is it a coincidence that a possible re-vote on this unpopular idea that looks bad in the media is being postponed until spring -- after the education levy vote?

I suspect it is dawning on the District that the levy is becoming more and more of a hard sell in light of all its bungling and mismanagement:

It closed 5 schools in June for a supposed $3 million savings and (a misdiagnosed) lack of demographic need only to announce three months later that it wants to reopen 5 schools at a cost of $48 million because of demographic need.

Meanwhile, there is a huge backlog of deferred maintenance of district school buildings, adding to all of the costs.

The superintendent lays off over 165 teachers only to discover that enrollment is up at least 1200 kids over expected, so the teachers are needed after all.

We discover, thanks to a state audit and Seattle schools parent Meg Diaz's analysis, that the district's central admin office is grossly overstaffed -- 39 percent larger than any district in the state. (“Central Administration Efficiency in Seattle Public Schools” http://docs.google.com/present/view?id=0AVRHgOkrxGL8ZGhta2I4cXJfMGZqbjZqampz&hl=en).

And now the district wants to lower graduation standards?

Yes, the "headlines" don't look very good, do they.

The biggest shame in all this is that our kids' schools need the money from the levy, but who can blame voters if they decide that this district can't be trusted to make the right decisions for the right reasons in a fiscally and ethically responsible way?

Seattle Parent said...

Regarding "bringing back" the use of the N grade (for graduation purposes)-

I'm really confused here and I've listened to all the Board's discussions, including the recent meeting. The district admits that the use of the E grade as an N (not counting) was out of "alignment and compliance with existing policy and law" (see School Board Action Report for these policies, 9/16/09) but they never really got rid of that practice for the graduation GPA purposes. As far as I can tell I don't think it ever really fully went away last year.

Look at the letter to parents 9/18/08) which is also linked as an attachment to the same Action Report. It very clearly says that effective immediately (Sept. 2008), E's would be used in GPA's (ie for college transcripts)to represent course failure, but in bold it says that still for the purposes of graduation requirements ONLY, "the GPA will be calculated in a way that treats an "E" grade the same as an "N" grade (ie will not be included & will not negatively impact the graduation GPA).

So, it never went away really, at least for graduation GPA's. So a C average is really a fake standard if F's are not counted, and every student knows they can still apply for a waiver in addition.

The only interesting note also in the parents letter, is that only one course per semester may be taken on an "N" basis (all other course failures shall receive "E"). It's not clear if then for graduation purposes, if that applies also or not. Gee kids, one F per semester is OK for graduation, and it won't evn lower your GPA at all if cyou ask for it to be counted as an N grade- go for it!

Dorothy said...

SeattleParent, how different is this WAC rule for Washington State History? It looks like what I remember, but I don't recall details. Fits with what I have been told. That the 8th grade SS class that covers Washington State History fills the requirement, but doesn't result in any actual credit. I can't read the legal wording carefully enough to know if kids still need to get the .5 credit while in high school if they fulfilled the requirement in middle school.

Seattle Parent said...

Dorothy,
It's kind of a circular chase- 0.5 credit of WA History is required to graduate, and almost all MS kids get it in Seattle which fulfills the requirement (but no HS credit was given). In the WAC, it states that 7th & 8th graders can take the course & fulfill the HS requirement, but only be given HS credit IF the course is offered at a similar or equivalent high school academic level, AS DETERMINED by the School Board of Directors.

Charlie was saying that now kids might get credit for that MS class, but I'm not so sure, as it has to be determined by the Board that it was taught at a HS academic level.

Charlie Mas said...

Credit for the Washington State history course is in the same category of "to be determined at the discretion of the Board" as every other class.

The Board can decide - rightly or wrongly - that the Algebra taught at middle school isn't equivalent to the Algebra taught in high school and therefore deny the credit. If they want to, they can.

They can do the same for world language classes or any other classes.

At the same time, the Board can decide that the eighth grade Language Arts classes taught in our middle schools - because we are going to shift from the State Standards to the College Readiness Standards - exceed the state's expectations for eighth grade and therefore qualify for high school credit. They can do the same for Washington State History. They can do it if they want to. They are actually pretty unconstrained.

adhoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adhoc said...

A couple of things:

I called Michael Tolley's office today and asked about HS credit for MS work.

Q: Is it retroactive?
A: No, it will not be retroactive to work done in middle school last year, nor will they consider work done this current year. It begins next year (2010/11)

Q: Will it apply to out of district transfer students if the middle school the student transferred from used the same curriculum as SPS? For instance my son went to Shoreline for MS, and they used CMP2, and he took INTI just as he would have in a Seattle school.
A: No, credit will only be given to kids attending an SPS middle school.

Dorothy, kids have never received HS credit for WA state History taken in 8th grade. They do take WA State History in 8th grade and it does satisfy the high school graduation requirement, but students are not given HS credit. In other words the grade they receive does not go on their HS transcripts. This was the same for math (INT I II and III) taken in MS. The high schools acknowledge that kids took the classes and place them in the appropriate HS level class, but in the past they did not give HS credit for those classes.

This may be different for home school kids, but this is how it has been for kids in SPS.

Dorothy said...

adhoc, that's what I said. That they receive "Credit" for fulfilling the requirement, but there is no credit points associated with it.

The WAC seems to be self-contradictory here. For HS graduation one must have the .5 credit for WA St History. However, one can fulfill the requirement by taking the class in middle school, which does not provide credit. But that seems to not follow the WAC rules on requiring .5 credit. I haven't read the bit of the district proposal that deals with this (and as Charlie said, they discarded).

Homeschooling kids have to do an extra project or something, I don't know if they get an actual .5 credit for doing so. From what I heard anecdotally, how much work was necessary was up to the discretion of their American History teacher. Since my son quit high school before reaching the 11th grade, I don't have first hand experience with that. (And my son actually did Washington State History homeschooling in 8th grade. I tried to get it acknowledged and was told we had to wait until 11th grade. Only that teacher could review what he accomplished and decide.)

adhoc said...

What would happen to a transfer student that didn't take US HIST in 8th grade? I mean our high schools don't even offer the course do they?

My son went to Shoreline for MS, and thankfully he took US HIST in 8th grade. He had to give his transcripts showing he passed the class to his councilor at Hale.

Charlie Mas said...

Well, Michael Tolley can say whatever he wants. He doesn't decide; the Board does. And if I get a letter from him, instead of from the Board, then I will bring it to the Board and advise them not to allow the District staff to encroach on their authority.

For all of the talk and concern about the Board stepping over the line and messing in the Superintendent's area of responsibility, it is much, much more common for the superintendent and the staff to be stepping over the line and usurping the Board's authority.

adhoc said...

You really have to have to be diligent and persistent to find things out in SPS.

I called SPS Customer Service to ask some questions about the new board policy that allows HS students to get credit for MS work. Customer service told me that I was misinformed, that HS students can not get any credit for MS work. When I told them that the board had just voted to allow the credit, I was told that Mary Brown, Enrollment Services Manager was the person to talk to. I called Ms. Brown and she promptly assured me that HS students could not get credit for MS work. She was obviously unaware of the vote too. When I told her about it, she seemed surprised, and told me that Michael Tolley and Ruth Medskar were the people who would know the answers to my questions. I called Michael Tolley's office and was told yet again (by his secretary) that HS students could not get credit for MS work (Is even Michael Tolley's office unaware of action items and votes that happen at board meetings)? When I told the secretary that the board had voted to allow the HS credit, she said she'd check with Mr. Tolley and either he or she would call me back. She called me back with the answers to my questions which I posted them above.

I'm not sure if Mr. Tolley checked with the board directors before he gave me his answer or whether his office made these decisions? I guess I will start all over again now and email each board director my list of questions and compare the answer to Mr Tolley's. I'll report back when I get a response. Diligence....

And, thanks for the heads up Charlie.

adhoc said...

Just posted my questions on Harium's blog, and will now email each board director. I'll post the answers that I get here. If anyone else hears any official answers to my questions would you mind posting here too? Thanks.

1) Is the HS credit for MS work retroactive? Can I apply for credit for my son who is a Freshman in HS this year. He took INTI math last year in MS?

2) Will students transferring in from other district be allowed to apply for credit too? My son went to Shoreline for MS. They use the same curriculum for math (CMP2) as SPS does. My son took INTI in 8th grade just as he would have if he were in an SPS school. Is he eligible for the HS credit?

3) What courses will it apply to. I assume Math and foreign language, but how about WA State History which is a HS graduation requirement (but the class is taken in MS). Any others?

Maureen said...

Will the APP 8th grade Biology class count for HS credit? If so, can other schools that offer substantial MS science courses apply to have their classes count as well? What would the criteria be? Would they have to use a specific textbook and follow a standardized curriculum? Will SPS provide those textbooks to the MSs?

Charlie Mas said...

The policy and the law both leave a lot of this to the Board's discretion. It is the Board who must decide if a class is equivalent to a high school class. No one else. Of course the Board will be guided by the staff on the question.

Until now the Board has denied all petitions because no class has been determined to be equivalent to a high school class. No class has been determined equivalent because they have never even considered the question for any class. By refusing to make the determination they have kept every class from qualifying. By keeping every class from qualifying, they have evaded ever having to award the credit.

TechyMom said...

I don't get it. Why wouldn't they want to award the credit?

Seattle Parent said...

TechyMom,
That's way too logical of a question for the district to answer! (besides being the law)

Dorothy said...

I've wondered about this credit thing as well. Why not award it? Why award it? (I know the law says to)

Here's my musing. Please correct where it's wrong or offer your own theories.

Seems to me most of these subjects already offer placement based on middle school classes. Are there any situations where the student passed the middle school class and the HS does not want to award placement? The only place I can think this might be a case is where HS teachers want a higher standard than passing. (ie, I have heard that there's a school with an advanced track that requires 85% final average to advance to the next class. True?)

One place where getting this credit could possibly backfire is when the high school must make cuts in programming. Let's say you took two years of high school math in middle school and got credit for that. Well, you only need three years of HS math to graduate, but would really like to take as much as possible. This would mean advanced math classes. If you already have the credits, then the school might say, sorry, we can't afford to offer thee advanced math for you. However, you already passed graduation requirements and we have some other kids, not as far advanced, who need lower level math to graduate.

I have heard of one reason why kids really might want the credit though, and it could increase financial burden on the district. One must have a certain number of credits in order to qualify for Running Start classes. If middle school credits counted, then you could have some kids qualifying for Running Start earlier and utilize it more. (Does Running Start cost the district? I am under the impression it does.)

Note, I am not making a judgment for or against credit, I am just trying to figure out why the district might balk, not justifying their balking.

Charlie Mas said...

Dorothy,

I'm familiar with the concerns you mentioned. Let me address them.

First, student who have not passed the WASL are required to continue taking math classes as a graduation requirement, so the additional advanced math classes are, in fact, not elective but required courses for graduation - at least until the second semester of the 11th grade. Any student can engineer a WASL failure, so that can extend the necessity for another year.

The Running Start thing is correct. Students need 10 credits to begin Running Start. A student who arrives at high school with, say two credits (one for Algebra and one for a world language), would need to earn eight credits to be eligible. If the student takes six classes and gets six credits in their first year of high school they will have the requisite ten credits in time for the start of the second semester of the second year of high school.

Or, if the student is able to take additional classes (either by taking them online or if the student qualifies for credit through alternative education), the student could get all eight of the needed credits in the first year of high school and enter Running Start in the second year of high school.

Students at Running Start are not counted in the school attendance for AAFTE purposes so the District does not receive state revenue for that student for the portion of the day when the student is at Running Start. In that way it does cost the District money.

I had a meeting with Carla Santorno and Michael Tolley over high school credit for middle school and they were simply mystified that anyone would want it. They totally didn't get it. Moreover, they seemed to think that the high school experience is somehow magical and that level of learning can only happen inside that twinkling special place.

TechyMom said...

ugh. I can't think of anything less magical than the "high school experience."

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Depends on the high school TechyMom.

My small-town high school had incredible teachers and a wide array of offerings. Our graduating class of 175 had 15 National Merit Scholars and a high percentage of kids go on to 4-yr colleges. I got to take exciting electives like Russian History, Sociology and African American History (as well as art every year including an independent study my senior year). I was not one of the uber-popular kids, but still had a great experience.

With that said, I'd still like to see MS get credit for HS work--especially languages, freeing them up to take even more electives in HS.

Seattle Parent said...

SolvayGirl '72 said-

"I'd still like to see MS get credit for HS work--especially languages, freeing them up to take even more electives in HS".

Solvay, I'd look hard at the quality of the middle school world language program before rushing into a fast track. There aren't many parents I've met who would say that a watered down 2-year middle school course is equivalent to one high school year. Maybe we were very lucky, but the high school quality far exceeded the middle school "play time". In high school my kid was required to spend atleast 1 hour a day on homework and/or practice (and it was well worth the time).

Definitely the language teachers I've talked to at the high school have very little confidence in the middle school rigor, and discourage parents from putting their kids into 2nd year levels for "all but 5% of the top kids." When we had a discussion at our high school of MS credits for HS classes, the high school teachers were very much against this issue, for world languages.

Also, like you, we thought it would be great to get a head start on electives, until we got caught up in the high school scheduling Catch 22-- that incoming 9th graders have last chance at seats for a 2nd year language, and that continues all the way up through. Besides, in most high schools you'll run out of upper level class offerings, if the kid really likes languages.

Finally, from what I've recently heard, colleges are asking that kids have their language in their last years at high school, so they will not have forgotten so much by the time they get to college. Last March the Seattle Times ran an article saying that UW was changing their policy and would allow students with 3 years of high school language to satisfy the UW's undergraduate language requirement. What if they don't give it for courses taken in middle school?

Just things to consider...

TechyMom said...

Does SPS allow early graduation?

I had a friend in HS, who wasn't gifed, or even an A student, who took extra courses every semester and went to summer school, and managed to graduate a full year early. She didn't like school much, didn't go to college until much later, and opened a successful small business when she was about 20.

There are other reasons besides the college application that someone might want to accelerate high school, such as needing or wanting to get into the work world sooner.

I would think that as we start exploring vocational options in HS, as the state is doing, that some of those students would also want to get graduation requirements out of the way early, so they can either start Tech Prep (I think that's the name of the vocational equivalent to Running Start?) or just get the heck out of high school without having take all the flack associated with the GED route.

TechyMom said...

Heck, maybe they could even learn not to write full-paragraph run-on sentences :-)