The Board's Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee met on Monday, May 21. The meeting started just after the scheduled start time of 4:00. All three committee members, Marty McLaren (chair), Sharon Peaslee, and Harium Martin-Morris, were present. No other board members were in attendance. They quickly approved the agenda without amendments and then approved the minutes from the previous meeting, also without amendments.
The first order of business was an MOU regarding Neighborhood House. Neighborhood House is a local non-profit that is seeking a federal grant to build a cradle to college pipeline for children living in low income communities. The federal grant is highly competitive and Neighborhood House is a real contender. They finished 10th nationally in the competition for this grant last year but only the top five entries were funded. They are trying again this year. The federal grant is a matching grant but it will match either cash or in-kind contributions. Neighborhood House would like to include some in-kind contributions from the school district on their grant application. The district's contribution is all stuff that the District is already doing and is already committed to continuing to do. Neighborhood house has a number of other public and private agencies that are also participating in their application, including Seattle Housing Authority and the City. The work will be centered around the High Point community. There is no risk and no additional cost to the District with this and it can only be helpful and supportive for the students. There is a data sharing element in the agreement, but it is FERPA compliant and no identifiable data can be shared without permission from the students' families. Let's all wish Neighborhood House good luck with this year's grant application.
The committee was then provided with information about the superintendent's procedure for Policy 2163, Supports and Interventions. This is not a matter for Board discussion or approval, just a courtesy from the superintendent to advise the board that the procedure has been written, what it says, and what it means for how the district will operate. At the heart of the procedure is MTSS (Multi-Tier System of Support). This is the new name for what we used to call Response to Intervention (RTI). There doesn't appear to be any change in meaning that comes with the change in nomenclature. MTSS is now required by federal law. Schools have to try tiered interventions before referring students for special education services. The basic idea behind MTSS is pretty simple: We check to see how students are doing. Students that aren't doing well get support. We check again and if the students still aren't doing well they get more intensive support. I know that sounds simple and obvious, and I'm sure that all teachers have always done this, but it has not been bureaucratically recognized or supported by policy and procedure. Now it will be applied systematically.
Every student will get screening tests in reading and math. These are supposed to be quick formative assessments. They are not expected to be anything like the burden that MAP puts on schools, classes, students and teachers. The students who show that they are doing fine will continue with the instruction they have been receiving. The screening tests, however, are sure to show that some students are not doing fine. Those students will then get diagnostic tests to determine what kind of help they need, and then they will get some different kind of instruction designed to support them. This different type of instruction could mean a change in instructional materials, such as when students at Mercer who didn't succeed with CMP2 were taught from Saxon texts.
This procedure will be piloted at ten schools next year and then be rolled out to the district with full implementation scheduled for 2014. The folks at teaching and learning are working to devise the assessments, determine the cut scores, select a menu of interventions, and select instructional materials for those inventions. They have just put out an RFP for the intervention materials.
We would do well to review this superintendent procedure when it becomes public. It could be a great stride forward for traditional public education. This could represent a sincere effort to respond to student needs and to individualize instruction.
Then the committee was given a copy of the new superintendent's procedure for Advisory Committees 4110SP. Again, this is not a matter for board discussion and approval, it was just a courtesy of informing the board that the procedure had been re-written. The re-write was intended to remove mystifying education jargon from the procedure to make it more accessible for families.
At 5:00 the committee turned to proposed policy 2200, Equitable Access to Programs and Services, which will replace policy C56.00, the program placement policy. There are three main proposed revisions to the existing policy. First, it adds the words "or services" to every reference to programs. They are getting very squishy about what a "program" is. Second, it removes the language that says that anyone can make a program placement request. I don't know that this means that people can't make requests, only that the policy will not explicitly say that they can any more. Third, and this is really bad, the revision removed the requirement that the superintendent have a procedure and make that procedure public. The proposed revision eliminates the transparency requirement.
The transparency requirement is the reason for the whole policy. In 2007 the Board discovered how program placements were done. They found that the process was secretive, dishonest, political, and often contrary to students' interests. Their solution was to demand transparency and reporting. They reckoned that if the process were opened up then the other problems would be fixed. Unfortunately, the superintendent refused to provide the required transparency. Even more unfortunately, the board refused to enforce the policy and require it. Without the transparency and reporting, program placement has remained secretive, dishonest, political, and, in many cases, contrary to students' interests. Although the policy has been re-named to "Equitable Access to Programs & Services" there is no mention of equitable access in the policy, nor does the policy make any effort to require equitable access to programs or services. This is a dreadful policy change.
The committee then discussed the contract with the Teacher's College at Columbia University for professional development on Reader's and Writer's Workshop. The funny thing here is that this instruction is kind of expensive, that the District could do it cheaper by having highly qualified district staff provide the instruction, but that the teacher corps really wants to get the instruction directly from the folks at Teacher's College and not from the local talent. Director Martin-Morris, in particular, was frustrated by the name-brand appeal of the Teacher's College instructors over the local instructors. The teachers' preference, however, is very strong. Classes taught by folks from Columbia are full with long wait lists. Classes taught by local instructors - whom everyone acknowledges are highly qualified - go nearly empty. Let's remember that the teachers are not paid to attend these classes and cannot be required to attend them.
At 5:45 the committee's attention turned to the NWEA contract. The district will pay about $480K for MAP tests next year. The staff in the central office are really convinced that this MAP test is a great and valuable thing. They say that principals love it. They also say a lot of contradictory stuff about it. The rationale for the MAP test has shifted around a lot since we first got involved with the NWEA. It was, originally intended as a district-wide formative assessment. It isn't used that way anymore. It is now used for "benchmarking" a statement that falls pretty flat with me. They say that it is our only nationally normed achievement test and the only way we can compare our students to national averages (hence the benchmarking) but then Wendy London said that the test is keyed to Washington state standards. I would really like to hear a clear, cogent explanation of why we need this test and what it does for us and, to be honest, I think the District believes they have a good story with this test but they acknowledge that they haven't told it well. Maybe I should contact Wendy London and give her the opportunity to tell her story and I can have my opportunity to hear the story at the same time.
At 6:00 the committee got the story on the additional funding needed for the high school social studies adoption from Kathleen Vasquez. This is a whole basket of whoops. It starts with not buying enough copies of the books for 10th graders. The District thought that, since it is a one semester course that they would only need enough books for half of the 10th grade class at a time. Turns out that some schools have made it a one year course and some schools offer a second semester course. Also, there was an overly simple calculation of the number of copies needed for schools where students sometimes choose the AP course instead. They forgot that the share of students varies from year to year. Then there are the schools that wanted the District to fund the AP textbooks or IB textbooks - the cost of those books hadn't be included in the original cost estimate. Then there are two schools that got earlier editions of these books three years ago - should those be replaced. While it was good to get the explanation for the revised cost, the conversation quickly devolved into the committee making decisions about whether to accept or reject textbook requests on a school by school basis. This is not policy or governance. This was a clear case of the Board stepping over the line into management and administration decisions that the superintendent should be making with the Board's general guidance on which textbooks should be bought by the district and which by the schools, but without this level of micromanagement.
The meeting finished on a high note with a revision to the credit marking policy that brings an elegant and common sense solution for students coming into the district from homebased instruction. Not only were there problems with determining their class status and credit history, but also with granting them access to Running Start. Ms Ferguson and Mr. Tolley found an excellent solution and, by all reports, they found it quickly. Hooray for them!