Friday, May 06, 2016

Speaking of Rigor, here's a story from the Northshore School District

Northshore School District in Bothell has a junior high program for more rigor called the Challenge program.  It is all self-selected like an ALO.  The district adopted it to meet four goals:

The Board of Directors has adopted four goals to guide the district’s ongoing improvement efforts. The Junior High Challenge Program has been developed in response to Goal 1: Student Achievement and Success at Grades Pre-Kindergarten – 12 and Beyond.
The specific performance measures focusing district efforts to provide a more rigorous curriculum for all students are as follows:
1.6 – Increase the percentage of students successfully completing algebra by the end of the 8th grade

1.9 – Increase the percentage of students completing two or more Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), College in the High School and/or Tech Prep courses

1.10 – Increase the percentage of students taking higher level math courses beyond Algebra 2 (Core3)

1.12 – Increase the percentage of students scoring college ready on entrance and placement assessments.

1.13 – Increase the percentage of students meeting the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HECB) 4-year college entrance requirements.
Challenge courses are also vertically aligned with high school preparatory classes such as pre-Advanced Placement (AP), pre-International Baccalaureate (IB), AP, IB and College in High School (CHS).  
The program serves about 1700 kids which is over 50% of their middle school students.  That's   a large number of kids for an opt-in program. It appears there were enough numbers to have classrooms of Challenge kids  and classrooms of Gen Ed students and that may be the issue. 

It's unclear to me how long this program has been in place but a taskforce recently recommended to their superintendent to end the program despite its popularity.   The issue has come up as the district is going from a junior high format of 7-9th grades to a middle school format of 6-8th grades.  (The district had 54! focus groups of parents, students and staff.)

The district is saying they will have the Challenge curriculum in ALL the classes but the parents don't seem to be buying it.  It appears some teachers want this change as well believing that the Challenge classes were only marginally broader than the Gen Ed classes.  And, that there more white students selecting Challenge than Latino or other minority groups as well as fewer Sped and ELL students.

Some parents are putting up quite the challenge with 1300 signatures on a petition and their own website on the subject.  They are saying what SPS HCC parents say, which is that many of these kids need a like-minded peer group and that they don't believe teachers will be able to differentiate across all ability levels in a heterogeneous classroom.

Parents also like it because they can stay in their neighborhood school and their student, even if he/she tested into the gifted program, can be served there.  (Their test-in gifted program - AAP - serves about 6% of middle school students.)

It's an interesting story because you have a popular program that anyone can be in, either taking all Challenge course or just one.  Kids can stay at their neighborhood junior high.  And, it reaches kids who either didn't test for their gifted program or didn't get into the program.  But the taskforce said this:

In the first review of their findings, EDNW shared that our students with learning disabilities, disadvantaged students and our ELL take the SAT or AP/IB courses at lower rates than the student body as a whole and that students taking the SAT and AP/IB courses vary by race/ethnicity.
Our Native American, Latino and African American students’ participation in these advanced level courses are at lower rates than students of other groups.
Although Challenge courses are self-select and parents and/or students can freely select into these more rigorous courses, there are unintended barriers that keep our families and students of color, of languages other than English, of disadvantaged and of disabilities from enrolling into these courses.
In Despite the Best Intentions, researchers Lewis and Diamond write that white families have more resources than black and Latino families; “not merely financial . . . more educational resources (computers, books, etc.), more flexibility in time to spend dealing with children’s education (either monitoring homework or coming to school to intervene) and more cultural and social resources (ability to advocate successfully for a child in trouble, knowledge about how to provide best chances for college admissions, friends with influence at school) (pg. 91).”
(Reading the report from the taskforce, I am impressed.  It seems like a very thorough look at the issue.)

I'll have to call the district on Monday and ask some questions to find out if the program did fulfill their original goals that they set forth for the program. 


Anonymous said...

This is so frustrating. Here is a program that seems to be working and people like. Instead of doing what they can to support kids who are hesitant to enroll, they decide it is is unfair and want to ditch the program. Instead of supporting kids to stretch, they seem more focused on going with the minimum. If ANYONE believes that their child will get the same rigor by spreading the program to all classes, I have a bridge that I would like to sell to you. And people wonder why families leave public school.The cynical part of me thinks that so many kids want the program that it has become problematic from a scheduling perspective. I wonder if they are dropping the program for to make it easier for administrators as opposed to wanting to spread the program to more kids.

Outsider said...

This one incident by itself shows why public schools are over, and we are just waiting for the movers to come haul away the furniture. Don't be embarrassed to start thinking about what comes next.

Anonymous said...

How would anyone expect ELL and SPED to apply to advanced coursework at the same rate as all others? By definition these kids are already experiencing more academic challenge then peers, they are learning despite learning, development, or behavior challenges or in a 2nd language! The challenge program would be a double challenge for those groups, and those who do it should be recognized as academic superstars, but this should never be the expectation. The admin is foolish or cruel in this case.

Anonymous said...

For tech workers here, does the Northshore format tell you what it tells me? It tells me that when companies like Microsoft recruit with H1-B visas, they're not addressing a shortage but recruiting a better skill set. There's no shortage of local talent. It's simply not deemed to be as good. Why would that be? Due to what is happening at places like Northshore. Of course it works. If groupings that break out along ethnic and economic lines are an embarrassment, you don't get rid a program like Challenge but teach to everyone where they're ready to learn. Look at disparities for what they really are. Yes, doing this is hugely expensive. Yes, it is. You see where this leads to this particular intersection of greed. That's where Bernie comes in.


Anonymous said...

Classic. Absolutely classic. Don't try to raise the kids up from the bottom. Instead, chop the high achieving kids off at the knees. That's what passes for "equity" in modern "education research."

Dress this pig any way you want, but it's still a pig, full of hate, resentment and vengeance solely because others have it better than I. How pathetic is that? What kind of world will that result in? A Leninist Utopia?

How about celebrating achievement? Nah. Can't do that.


Anonymous said...

Those pesky federal laws that protect students with IEPs and ELL
students from being warehoused and segregated from other general
education students are such a drag!

It's also nice to see a local district take the lack of representation
of students from historically excluded/underserved populations
seriously. That will cut back on the demand for charters.

Instead, Melissa likes to state that "Asians are minorities" as a defense
of HCC demographics when posters bring up the lack of historically
underrepresented students in HCC.

The 5-6% (which is what the report says) of Northshore students
who qualify for highly capable services is way more reasonable
than the (what is it now?) 10% in Seattle.

Still waiting for this blog to focus on real inequities rather
than choosing the rile up the reader base with "crosses to bear"
stories on slow news days. These "dog whistle" threads have
become very transparent attempts to protect privilege.

The Soup for Teachers progressives have moved on and so have
many others in this district. The district is in for some
big changes in terms of equity.

--about time

stuart jenner said...

I’ve recently read this book called “Failing America’s Brightest Kids.” It is well worth reading.

In chapter 5, there is a mention of some Education Week articles about differentiation. There are some very strong opinions about whether differentiation within a 25 to 30 person single-subject class can work. See in particular Jan 7, 2015 and then some follow up responses.

Highline is making some similar decisions, with changes for Highly Capable kids where they evidently would be put in 9th / 10th classes and expected to do some sort of extra work. Parents are waiting for info about how this would actually work. What would the reading lists be for different levels, how would grading work, what would the rubrics be like, etc?

One school a couple of us visited is Thomas Jefferson HS in the Federal Way school district. Their approach at one time was to try to differentiate within classes. They gave up, stating "it was a colossal error", and instead of extended and regular classes. Students can move at the semester from one to the other. Students can do Full IB Diploma after being in regular in 9/10. But kids who want to work harder do have an easy way to do so. TJ says the demographics of their IB program fully reflect the demographics of their school, which include a high level of free / reduced lunch, first generation Americans from non-English speaking homes, etc.

I hope the Ed Week articles and the book can be helpful to Northshore and to Seattle parents as well.

Anonymous said...

"Those pesky federal laws that protect students with IEPs and ELL
students from being warehoused and segregated from other general
education students are such a drag!"

Bonus P.C. points for incorporating the plight of ELL kids and kids with IEPs as props in your argument. At least as effective a cover as MW propping up the Asians in HCC "defense," right?

Could we stop with the PC/Moral High Ground crap already? God forbid all parents care and advocate for their children, regardless of their academic achievements and abilities.


Anonymous said...

"Members of the sub-committee were concerned about the composition of challenge classes and non-challenge classes. Composition includes special education students, students accessing a 504 plan, English Language Learners, gender, and students of poverty (Free and Reduced Meals). There was concern that a disproportionate number of students from these underrepresented populations are not choosing to enroll in self-select challenge courses." (from posted link)

Addressing the warehousing and segregating of students with IEPs and ELL students who are being kept from their least restrictive environments is not "PC" but would otherwise be a violation of federal laws. The link specifically addressed the referenced student populations.

In addition, the link also referenced the reality and causes of historically excluded populations who are being underrepresented in advanced learning programs and services.

All parents care for their children. Unfortunately, there has been a systemic history
of denying rights to certain populations of students. Both federal laws and progressive advocacy have helped to ameliorate this injustice.

--about time

Lynn said...

Outsider gets it. This is such a perfect example of everything wrong in our public schools today.

Equity is more important than achievement. The administrators we hire to run our schools believe achieving equal outcomes by stunting the growth of high achieving students is a valid and moral choice. Where did they get this idea?

The paternalism with which parents of students with learning disabilities, and Native American, African American and Latino students are treated by these administrators is downright creepy. If you don't make the choices we prefer for your children, we'll take away your ability to choose. Nice. Next we'll be banning home packed lunches and requiring uniforms.

In order to maintain the level of challenge in these blended classes, you'd have to provide several additional adults in every classroom. Northshore is not doing that. Instead, teachers will continue to teach to the middle 60% of the class. The high achievers will be after-schooled by their parents or leave for private schools. Struggling students will continue to struggle. Middle school teachers will feel better but high school teachers won't see any change in the composition of honors and AP/IB classes. They'll have to remove those options next.

Anonymous said...

"The sky is falling" has been the classic response of the privileged whenever their
position is threatened. So has the threat to "take the money and run." Read history.

Ask Rita Green if her demands being addressed for equity at Rainier Beach were a result of a "paternalistic" district or a grudging response to the principled activism of those who had long suffered from neglect at Rainier Beach. Ask Mirmac and other Sped parents who have fought for least restrictive environment if the district is being "paternalistic" when it finally follows the law. Go behind the scenes at Northshore and Highline and ask the parent activists those questions, too.

"Struggling students will continue to struggle." Tell these parent advocates that quote in person when you see them at the next board meeting, Lynn.

--about time

Lynn said...

When there are no restrictions on enrollment in challenging classes, how does that violate a child's right to be educated in the least restrictive environment?

Who is threatening to "take the money and run"? It is simple truth that parents are responsible for providing for their children's needs. If a school ignores their child's needs, when possible they will choose another.

Who would assume that creating blended classrooms improves achievement for struggling students? What leads you to believe that was Rita Green's reason for advocating for challenging classes at RBHS? In Northshore's case, challenging classes were already available.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Melissa likes to state that "Asians are minorities" as a defense
of HCC demographics when posters bring up the lack of historically
underrepresented students in HCC."

That was an observation, not a defense. I did not phrase it that way at all.

This is story of interest because of what another district is doing, not to "rile" anyone up. Not interested? Don't read it.

Nancy C. said...

Thanks for spotlighting our issue in Northshore. Far from being the "opportunity hoarders" the group trying to save the Challenge program is advocating for finding those who aren't benefitting from the program but should be, which are primarily a portion of our free and reduced kids. You can learn more about the current program, the data about its success in meeting the school board's metrics, etc in the 80 page report and addendum on our website. We have resources, notes from academic subcommittee meetings (they don't take minutes!), and a school board testimony archive as well.

Jan said...

As a society, there is no "good solution" place where the learning needs of one group are not being met -- whether at the expense of another group or not.

The (existing in many places) model where there are accelerated classes or programs for gifted or very bright kids, regular gen ed progams for "average learners" (if such a thing exists), and functional warehousing -- where kids have no (or restricted) choices over what building they are in and what classes they take, insufficient learning support, and and teachers/administrators who ignore their learning differences rather than finding ways to work around them -- is not fair, equitable, or legal. And yet it happens all over the country, and parents whose kids are not affected sometimes seem indifferent, or even hostile, to solutions.

But if in fact "differentiated learning" in blended classrooms is not a model that can be scaled to large systems -- then that is not a solution either. And in fact, to the extent that it involves splitting a teacher's time, attention and focus into far too many pieces to serve ANY student effectively, it may result in no better learning for ELL/Sped/economically disadvantaged kids -- but simultaneously degrade learning opportunities for "average" kids and kids who need accelerated or gifted ed to have their learning needs met.

If teachers/administrators would honestly and energetically tackle the inclusion issue -- making it possible for sped and ell kids to be included in classes (with reasonable levels of support) that offer their highest and best chance of learning -- much of this issue would go away. My sped GHS kid took, and did well in, a number of AP classes. That was the good side. On the bad side, the school demanded, under the threat of removing all services, that he spend an hour a day in "social skills" classes that were a glorified study hall and a waste of time -- this was NOT ok.

Ultimately, success also depends on societal stuff like adequate funding, earlier education opportunities for ELL, Sped, and other kids who might excel more if they didn't start kindergarten 3 years behind in verbal skills and social experiences.

But the answer -- for my SPED kid as well as my 2 HCC kids -- cannot be to just dump everyone in one classroom, with no support and no practical ability for a teacher to to deliver meaningful differentiated instruction, day in/day out, for 180 days a year. If that were my only choice, I would be looking for other opportunities for ALL my kids, SPED and non-sped alike.

It is easy, in the face of what seems like the indifference of parents of normal or gifted kids (but is probably just cluelessness in a busy world), to assume they feel themselves "privileged" or "entitled" -- I suppose some might (but haven't personally met one) -- my sense is the vast majority just want a shot at an education that works for their kids -- just like I do. The funding and administration/SPED delivery system is the enemy -- not other parents who love their kids too.

Jan said...

Lynn -- if you ever see me at a board meeting, you are welcome to tell me that "Struggling students will continue to struggle." Because as I read your statement, you were talking about the degraded potential for struggling kids (sped or otherwise) to learn well in a large blended "differentiated" classroom, with inadequate or no supports or accommodations. And I am here to tell you -- mine WOULD continue to struggle under those circumstances.

I wanted my kid included. I wanted my kid to have a full range of opportunities. I also wanted my kid to learn. I don't want to have to choose, but if I HAD to (and I think I should NOT have to), I would choose learning over inclusion. I can't speak for parents of other SPED kids.

Anonymous said...

Rather than taking away a successful and popular program, the District would do well to make an intentional attempt to increase numbers of underrepresented students in the Self-Select Challenge program. There are so many tried and tested ways to do this! The Save Our Challenge report ( lists several ways and includes links to a mountain of research. It is imperative that they do this since Challenge classes lead to AP/IB and college readiness. The Challenge Math 7th grade is the path for non hi-cap students to access Algebra 1 in 8th grade! That access opens doors to many advanced classes in high school and leads to Calculus by 12th grade, as well as SAT readiness. In addition, the District has not been able to differentiate for the very small segment of students who are hi-cap in the classroom (not attending hi-cap in the all-day programs). The Parent Satisfaction Survey conducted by the Hi-Cap Board (in the appendix of the SOC Report) clearly shows that the parents of hi-cap in the classroom students believe that the District has not been successful at differentiation for that small group, so how will they do it for a huge range of abilities in the mixed-ability heterogeneous classroom? As of today the District has no implementation plan or budget for this change. AngieHY

Lynn said...


Thank you. I was pointing out that widening the range of learners in a classroom will not by itself benefit students - and unless some other change is made (fewer students, more teachers) will reduce the learning opportunities for most.

Anonymous said...

About time:

It's a complete surprise to my Asian spouse to hear he isn't a minority.
Just because some Asians are now middle-class+ and college educated doesn't mean that they haven't also suffered a lifetime of prejudice. Try walking in someone else's shoes before you make such inflammatory comments. Don't turn this into a race war.

Although you use the phrase "take the money and run" as an attempt to shame people who leave the public school, it may be the wisest choice for some whose children's needs are not being met at all.

- Multi-Racial Including Asian

Charlie Mas said...

I think that about time and Jan are right.

This isn't a simple situation and attempts to characterize it as such are callous and thoughtless.

Removing high achieving students from the general education classroom - particularly on a self-selected basis - alters the demographic of the general education classroom intolerably. It quickly becomes both immoral and illegal. It's taken me a while to come around to acknowledging this, but that is the case. Sorry for the delay. For those of you who are now where I was on this, consider 60 kids in two fourth grade classrooms of 30 with 12% SpEd (9), 30% FRL (18), and 5% ELL (3). Then the classrooms get split into Challenge and general education and 50% of the class leaves for the Challenge program. Let's not kid ourselves. The Special Education, FRL, and ELL kids will not go to the Challenge program, so the general education class of 30 keeps them all. And who are the 30 students in that class? The 9 Special Education students, 18 students living in poverty, and the three English Language Learners. That's your thirty. And what is that class like? Can you honestly say that the students in that class are getting a free appropriate public education? I can't.

On the other hand, we have yet to see any reliable model for differentiation within a classroom of students with a broad range of skills. Differentiation, whether we call it RTI, MTSS, or Holiday on Ice, is a lie. Differentiation is a lovely idea, but that unicorn don't hunt. Consequently neither the struggling students nor the high achieving students are served.

So what to do? There are some effective solutions which allow LRE and demographically diverse classrooms. They include small group instruction, walk to math/reading/science, parallel curriculum, and project-based learning. The problem with these is that they require more time, effort, and resources than most schools and teachers have to spare.

Which is why we are in the quandary we are in. Please, let's not have anyone on either side pretend that this is a simple issue. It's not. All children deserve an appropriate academic opportunity that teaches them at the frontier of their knowledge and skills.

I think the solution is not to try to fiddle with the tracking model, which is illegal and doesn't work for the students in tracks working below grade level, nor to fiddle with the differentiation model, which is a fantasy within a dream, but to focus more on the models known to be effective.

What will it take to make Walk to math/reading/science work?
What will it take to bring parallel curriculum into reach for teachers?
What will it take to develop more project-based lessons for multiple skill levels?

Can we agree to focus on what works instead of what doesn't work?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, you presume a couple of things.

One, that the Challenge class is somehow better taught than the Gen Ed class. I'm not sure that's true.

Two, your numbers seem to have been borne at by the program at Northshore as it is for HCC. But, does it have to be that way? Again, we've all talked about how to get more diversity into these classrooms and I'd like to think it is possible with better outreach.

Yes,"Holiday on Ice" - just like getting diversity in advanced classes - seems to be really difficult especially with larger class sizes.

I do agree with your final questions.

Anonymous said...

We've become so much better at wrecking things that work and building things that don't, which have all been tried before, and failed, that I hardly recognize the mission of our schools anymore. This zero-sum-game mindset that exists in our schools is self-defeating for all. I.e., "if someone else's kid is doing better than mine, it's because they are stealing off my plate." Nonsense.

What does this discussion teach us? That achievement is inherently unfair, oppressive or racist? A self-selected program in a school population where achievement falls along similar lines throughout many urban and suburban districts, and the first thing people think of is to blame the people doing well and tear apart their program. How familiar.

Easily the most obvious solution is to increase the breadth and access of the challenge program, and either build upon or replicate the program for any kids who can't sit side-be-side with those kids in the same classroom for whatever reason.

Why are we so predisposed toward putting a lid on how high the highest achievers can go? From a wider, societal perspective, this is absolute insanity. The societal goal is to gain the maximum overall yield of intelligence and production from it's workforce. The more, the merrier. The more productive people at the top are, the more resources available for those at the bottom of the various scales, such as poverty, education level, skill sets, etc. Money doesn't trickle down as it should, because we have unfair taxation. But intelligence, standard of living, common knowledge, best practices, and improved quality of life for everyone is shared through knowledge and information. So why not push the highest achievers as high as they can go when all of society will benefit from it, instead of accusing them of hoarding all the best resources and depriving everyone else? This is just plain nuts.


Melissa Westbrook said...

WSDWG, I could give some reasons why I think this happens but I agree with what you are saying.

Anonymous said...

Jan says she would choose "learning" over "inclusion" if she had to. I've looked at many, many special ed programs - all over the country, and all over SPS. And the reality is - that depends. If your child has a specific learning disability - sometimes that segregated environment for "learning" works and is effective. But it is exceedingly rare - and there is little empirical evidence that these modified classes produce improved outcomes in any large scale district. For students significantly disabled - the segregated environment for "learning" NEVER is better. If you think they are - go look at them. The idea of a standard learning trajectory - where students move from one learning target to the next after having mastered the previous - really falls apart for exceptional learners. It is simply wrong. At the famous May Institute in Chattam Ma - I saw 18 year old students with autism working studiously on toddler puzzles. Evidently - they still hadn't mastered that 4 year old task - so they were being made to stick with it. Year after year, with his 1-1 teacher. Crazy! This was the ultimate self-contained setting, (segregated "learning" environment) - a residential program for people with autism - funded by our public schools. When the poor kids finally mastered the "puzzle", if they ever do, what will be the next step? And what good has all that segregated "learning" environment achieved? None that I could see. Our district's SM4 self-contained programs are similar. While they may look like they are doing something worthwhile in a few of these in elementary school, it's only because the students are young and seem like they might somehow learn something useful. By high school - these are the worst environments you can possibly imagine. At the SPS Adult Transition meeting, the Bridges4 teacher got up and told the audience his "adult transition" (18 - 21) class would 1. have circle time where they did date and weather (just like preschool) and 2. walk around the community (just like all these students do anyway). That's the end product of segregated "learning" environment - and where it ends up. No. You don't want that for your kid Jan. But hey, that doesn't sound like your kid.

Charlie - you have identified the problem with the huge identification of "giftedness" - segregation, exclusions, seclusion of the traditionally disenfranchised. Society, and school districts are not obligated to maximize everyone's potential. They are obligated to do a good-enough job for all. It is difficult for HCC parents to hear that. But think about all the opportunities afforded this group - multiple schools - Ingraham, Garfield, reference school, Center School Nova, IB, AP, IBX programs, every class, every elective, in every school - all available for them. Middle schools with all sorts of science, music, and foreign language. Contrast this with offerings for students with disabilities - there is no accessible lab science in high school. Nobody cares if people with disabilities learn any science at all - even though all of it could be made accessible through segregated "learning" environments or inclusion. Where is there a modified Chemistry class? Or a modified Biology class? Or a modified computer science class? Students with disabilities are simply NOT expected to take any of these - and none are made available for students with significant challenges. Is there a wonder that we have such poor outcomes? Sometimes there are a few math classes - that's good. But there is nowhere near the breadth of offerings as made to anyone else. This is why there is such an emphasis on equity. Not because an equal outcome is expected - but because many, many students have practically nothing made available to them. In fact, their outcomes - are not given a thought at all.


Anonymous said...


Point of clarification: The breadth of programs you cite as being available to HCC parents, are in fact "available to" all non-Sped students, not just HCC. So it's inaccurate to label "this group" (HCC) as being afforded all those opportunities, when those opportunities are offered to HCC and non-HCC alike.

More importantly, you wrote this:

Students with disabilities are simply NOT expected to take any of these - and none are made available for students with significant challenges. Is there a wonder that we have such poor outcomes? Sometimes there are a few math classes - that's good. But there is nowhere near the breadth of offerings as made to anyone else. This is why there is such an emphasis on equity. Not because an equal outcome is expected - but because many, many students have practically nothing made available to them. In fact, their outcomes - are not given a thought at all.

I've heard this complaint many, many times from SPED parents. Do you believe this is a building level problem, a district level problem, or both? And why the low expectations? What's the root cause for that, in your opinion?

And as for "inclusion" situations, we had that way back at Lowell, but the district's lawyer, Shannon McMinimee, literally took the position that HCC kids were not "typically developing peers" for HCC kids, and thus, Lowell was out of compliance, requiring 1/2 the HCC kids to be moved, and the former MLK and TT Minor kids to take their place at Lowell, so the SPED kids could have "typically developing peers" (gen ed kids) to comply with the law's "inclusion" requirements. Many of we APP parents called BS on that, believing our kids were "typically developing peers" for the SPED kids, but we were maligned, blown off and ridiculed for "not getting it." I wonder what SPS would say today? Probably whatever jibes with their ulterior motives on any given day, like before.


seattle citizen said...

The program serves over 50% of the middle school students. Commenters here call these students "high-achieving." What does make the other 50%? Why are these 50% "high-achieving"? Was there a test?
I understand that students learn different skills at different rates, but with over half the middle schools getting (purportedly) more...rigorous? advanced? instruction, what about that other 50%? Are they just merely "achieving"? Or "low-achieving"? What do THEY think about all this? Has anyone asked THEM?

Anonymous said...

@SeattleCitizen: I venture the guess that they are feeling left behind. Were I in their shoes, I'd be worried, too. And HCC type programs have grown so much in public schools, they are bound to have kids and families who brag about it and show it off as a point of pride, which only hastens anxiety of those who feel "excluded," whether by thought or deed. That's a school culture problem, not a program problem.

I see no wisdom in dismantling anything that is working for any group of kids. I think we should copy, imitate, replicate and modify any and all such programs to spread whatever the magic methods are to as many kids as possible. We will never reach all kids, but hitting the reset button, over and over, on programs that are "too successful" is self-defeating, disheartening, and ultimately, destructive to the function and reputation of public schools.

I know many SPED parents who've felt the same way after a successful program for their child was ripped away for some bureaucratic, nonsensical reason, always being told "this will be better than before," which never materializes.

After decades in SPS, I feel like nobody as SPS and throughout Public School Admins across the nation don't understand the maxim of "leaving well enough alone." I know some will say, "that's fine for you, but what about us?" I get it. But the answer is never to wreck what works. It takes so much to do just that.


Melissa Westbrook said...

"They are obligated to do a good-enough job for all. It is difficult for HCC parents to hear that."

Right there is where you lost me. I cannot say this enough - HCC parents don't want more (and are not getting "more.") They - along with ELL, Sped, all type of students- want their child's academic needs met. No more, no less.

Any student can attend any of those schools you name except for Ingraham and Garfield (and that's because they are full.) Every single comprehensive high school has either IB or AP and open to all.

And yet you blame HCC kids for the plight of Sped kids not having speciality classes to meet their academic needs. This is just what Charlie was saying - you cannot place blame on HCC kids (or Gen Ed kids who also have access to science labs, etc.) I absolutely think the district needs to do better about Sped and I have written about it over and over.

Seattle Citizen, there is no test to get into this program. You just have to tell the school, "I want my kid in the Challenge program." It's NOT their highly capable program which does have a test. It's in all their schools.

I sit in meeting after meeting where Board directors are told Sped is changing, getting better, meeting needs. And yet, year after year, parents contact me with issues around it. I remember thinking, when the district got Maria Goodloe-Johnson - who taught Sped and her degree focus was there as well - "boy, I'll bet we'll have a better Sped department with her here."

If I find it frustrating, then what can parents of current students feel like?

seattle citizen said...

Melissa, if their is no test, then how do we know the 50% of the middle school students are "high achieving," as claimed by some here? Likely many have parent/guardians who opt them in. My point, not clear, was that ALL classrooms should be high achieving. If any ol' body can be part of that 50% of students opting into the Challenge program and succeed at the work, then it's likely that many of the other 50% can succeed as well, and then why aren't THEY getting more challenging work? Why aren't ALL classes more challenging, if there is no test required, no special aptitude required?

And my question about those "left behind" stands: what do they think? That they're lazy? That the Challenge students are "smarter"? I'm sincerely curious about the divisions caused by different levels of classrooms. With APP, a test suggests the students are, in fact, in need of higher levels. Students get that. But what do Challenge...or AP...or IB students think about Gen Ed and vice versa?
I'm curious.

seattle citizen said...
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Anonymous said...

I think I get the predominant point of Speddie's post, MW, which is that inclusion is preferable over segregation, especially for the SPED kids. I would agree with that and they used to do it at Lowell with medically fragile kids, until SPS said the APP kids were not typically developing peers, and booted the South End kids out of Lowell.

And it's not the "segregation" that I see as the issue, although some like to use that term and it's soiled history for effect. (Not accusing Speddie of doing that, I just prefer more accurate terminology, like "self-contained," even though I'll get accused of "sanitizing reality" when I do that.) Whatever. Segregation is a bad word, so critics love the sound of it.

I read Speddie's post to say that reducing or denying inclusion for SPED kids "deprives" them of opportunities for enrichment and advancement that aren't, or haven't been, as effective as inclusion for many SPED kids. And to the extent that any HCC program excludes kids, it hurts their academic outcomes. I am presuming these are kids who, but for their condition, would otherwise qualify for the work level of the HCC classes, such as the many twice exceptional kids in HCC, or HCC kids who receive some level of limited SPED services each day.

I don't see that as an insurmountable problem, nor a problem who's only solution is dismantling or diluting a popular, highly successful academic program, because we should not be doing anything to limit the best possible outcomes for any students. But it seems some would disagree with that, for "equitable" reasons. That, I just don't get.

What really irks me, however, is how this zero-sum-game mentality plays right into the districts excuse machine for letting everyone down. We hand those in JSCEE a scapegoat every time we throw another group of kids under the bus. Collectively, any veteran of SPS should be smarter than that.


Anonymous said...

WSDWG - you simply don't get it. Students with disabilities are entitled to education with non-disabled peers to the maximum extent possible. Non-disabled peers includes APP students as most are not disabled. There is nothing IDEA that specifies that advanced learners somehow don't qualify as "non-disabled peers". Lowell never had meaningful inclusion for students with disabilities though there was a bit of socializing for some. Some parents liked what they did, others didn't. Shannon Micminimee was wrong about the inclusion/LRE issue. Lowell could have provided an LRE for students disabilities. But, she chose to use special education inclusion - something she never, ever cared about in any other situation - as ruse to kick students with disabilities out of a building designed for them. When they stood up - it was APP that needed to go. The building exceeded capacity for all of them. That's what actually happened.

Melissa - Did somebody blame HCC for anything? Not me. You can't say it enough -HCC parents aren't getting more than others.... you can't say it enough because it simply isn't true. They are getting WAY more than students with disabilities. Students with disabilities get 0 choices. None of them are available to many students with disabilities. Mostly - they have no choice is schools - 0. Even now, they are sent to distant locations in the district. Some are even sent out of district. That's not choice. Often they have 0 electives. They have 0 science or social students (not areas of SDI qualification), especially in high school. When 1 student at a popular elementary fights back to go to camp, it makes the news. No camp. No field trips. No trips to Hawaii for Marine biology. No accessible foreign language. No instruction SDI in native languages. No IEPs in foreign language (required by law). No supported anything. No counselling for post secondary - though there are many colleges now for students with intellectual disabilities, nobody in SPS will help students figure that out. No running start. No post-secondary anything. What they do get is life skills - whatever the heck that is. Nobody is saying this is the "fault" of HCC - but complaining about the fact that expensive (unfunded as in IB) programs which are excellent - aren't quite excellent enough - when others have nothing really doesn't illicit sympathy for your cause.

In special education - parents are not looking for "specialty" classes - they are looking for the bottom line. The things you take for granted. Why can't my kid take chemistry? I see other kids getting to have 20 science choices - but not mine. HCC parents are looking for a huge breadth of specialty classes to maximize their advantage. Once again - not equality of outcome - but equality of opportunity. I don't think that is too much to ask. No it has gotten worse, if only in that it is less responsive. Inclusion has returned as a style of program (called Access) but staff is digging its heels in at every opportunity to reduce its availability. WIth "inclusion" differentiation will be the type of learning in those classes. And as CHarlie notes, project based learning is a form of differentiated learning.


Anonymous said...

Boy, that wasn't too clear! I hope I don't confuse everyone else as much as I confuse myself when I re-read it. Replace "that aren't" with "and aren't" in the second sentence of paragraph 3. Then, it should make sense.


Charlie Mas said...

I'm all for high performing students getting an appropriate academic opportunity. Not more, not better, just what's right for them. But we cannot provide that appropriate academic opportunity in a way that creates an illegal classroom for other students. We need to find another delivery method than that, one that is both effective and legal.

People say don't destroy a system that works, but a system that creates an intolerable, illegal, and immoral situation for other students isn't a system that works.

I'm certainly not saying that we should stop supporting students working beyond grade level. I'm saying that we need to do it in a way that doesn't create illegal and immoral consequences. Why is that such a hard idea?

Anonymous said...

@ seattle citizen, per OSPI, close to half of Northshore SD's 4th graders scored a 4 on the SBAC (42% math, 48% ELA), indicating they "exceed standard." The remaining 52-58% were at or below standard. Is it really unreasonable, in our online comments here (which those 4th graders probably aren't reading), to refer to those who "exceed standard" as "high achieving"?

@ Speddie, you said: "Society, and school districts are not obligated to maximize everyone's potential. They are obligated to do a good-enough job for all."

How do you define good enough? Get everyone up to grade level? If nearly half the students exceed grade level, are they supposed to just sit there and wait until the others catch up? Or should the bar be higher than simply "grade level standards"? Or maybe schools should ONLY focus on those who are still below grade level standard, and leave the vase majority untaught? Would that be good enough? And if you think providing slightly more challenging classes comes anywhere close to "maximizing anyone's potential, I have news for you.

Abilities Vary

Why doesn't it make sense for those who already exceed the grade level standards to have access to a slightly more rigorous curriculum, while those who don't have a chance to work on grade level standards? Or if they want to really stretch, they can opt into the more rigorous program and see if they can accelerate?

Anonymous said...

Speddie: What don't I get? You're completely misreading my post.

I made that exact IDEA argument, to wit, that APP kids WERE typically developing peers, but SPS legal would have none of it.

Do not, however, re-write history and claim APP families ever wanted to get rid of the SPED families from Lowell. That is completely untrue and flies completely in the face of anyone at Lowell at that time, whether SPED or APP. When push came to shove, votes were taken and it was decided by the South End parents that, if anyone must go, it must be us in the South, because the Lowell Med Frag program was far too important to those families who needed it, and nobody wanted any harm to come to any of those families. To say otherwise is a complete falsehood.

There had been issues with Lowell Special Ed in years before, which culminated in the district, at one point, threatening to pull the SPED kids out and send them to ORCA, and there were SPED parents who agreed with SPS that APP were non-peers and looked forward to more inclusion opportunities as a result of APP kids being replaced with Gen Ed kids.

I was there, Speddie. I lived through it. And I know exactly how it happened.

If you're going to continue to spread falsehoods, however, I'm done engaging.


Anonymous said...

If FRL, ELL or SpEd students are scoring at or above standard, they could probably opt into the Challenge courses. If they aren't (i.e., if they are scoring at SBAC level 1 or 2), why would it be inappropriate to be in Gen Ed classes with other level 1 and level 2 students, as well as level 3 students? The numbers suggest that level 3 students aren't opting into Challenge classes at high rate (or if they are, a lot of level 4 students aren't opting in), so there would still be higher achieving students in the class.

Why does a student who scores below or very much below standard need to have students who EXCEED standard in the same class in order to make it an appropriate?

Anonymous said...

"People say don't destroy a system that works, but a system that creates an intolerable, illegal, and immoral situation for other students isn't a system that works."

@Charlie: What are you talking about?

"A system..." You're now blaming "the system" Charlie? How is self-selection the fault of "the System," Charlie? That very "system" might also be the only thing keeping that 50% of kids in that school.


seattle citizen said...

Abilities Vary,
I frankly don't consider SBAC to be a reliable tool. And it's likely not the case that only students with Above Standard SBAC scores are in Challenge.
If the other students are at or below standard, why aren't they being given challenge-level work with remediation to get them to this...more rigorous? more advanced? "better"? level of Challenge?

ALL students deserve rigorous, challenging classes, not just the 50% who opt into them (or whose parent/guardians opted them in.)

Anonymous said...

"ALL students deserve rigorous, challenging classes, not just the 50% who opt into them (or whose parent/guardians opted them in.)"

@SC: Who says that non-Challenge classes aren't doing that, already? We presume the students on the non-Challenge classes are not getting rigor. Why? We have no idea whether that notion is true, or not. And wouldn't the obvious answer be to improve those classes if that's the case? Perhaps by borrowing ideas from, doing walk-tos, and having inclusion opportunities in those classes? Or should we do like we usually do, and blow them up?

Perceptions are not always reality, if that matters to anyone. Yet, we are so quick, and so predisposed, to jump to conclusions.


Anonymous said...

Charlie -- I get where you're coming from. How would you envision walk to math/reading/science?

Would there be a homeroom for social studies, and would kids walk to math/science/reading? Would math/science/reading be blended across grades, so that they might include younger/higher-academic-achieving kids with older kids?


Melissa Westbrook said...

"Melissa, if their is no test, then how do we know the 50% of the middle school students are "high achieving," as claimed by some here?"

If you read Northshore's description or the parents' webpage, I don't see "high achieving." I believe - since it's NOT their gifted program - that it's like an ALO - whoever wants more challenge, goes into those classes.

I don't know what parents who don't choose this for their kids think. I don't know what the kids think. But clearly, it's fairly popular.

Speddie, now I understand your point. That the district is being unfair in its offerings is the district's fault. And yes, we should all advocate for that to change.

Anonymous said...


We need to make sure our history is correct. This statement is not true: "But, she chose to use special education inclusion - something she never, ever cared about in any other situation - as ruse to kick students with disabilities out of a building designed for them. When they stood up - it was APP that needed to go. The building exceeded capacity for all of them. That's what actually happened."

That is not what happened. I think you are conflating two different things: the first split in 2007 and the second split in 2011 (I think these are the correct years, but I may be off by a year).

The first split was NOT due to capacity. Remember that MGJ was initially trying to permanently close Lowell as part of her disastrous capacity realignment. She announced that she was closing Lowell and she did not provide the Spec. Ed parents any notice or provide them with any information about where their kids would go. It was awful. It was after this that the district came up with the excuse that APP kids were not "typical" and that Lowell would need to change. This is when half the APP kids were sent to TM and TT Minor was closed so that those kids could be moved into Lowell to be the "typical" kids.

The second split is the one that sent APP kids to Lincoln and that was entirely due to a lack of capacity at Lowell.

There are multiple groups of kids in this district that who are not treated with the care and respect that they deserve. I am always sad to see the unpleasant comments that come up during these discussions.


seattle citizen said...

WSDWG, my point (if I can articulate it on a lazy yet busy Sunday) is that if the 50% in Challenge classes are getting something that many of the students in the non-Challenge (unChallenged? LackChallenge) classes can do, too, then why aren't ALL classes "challenge" classes?

Are you proposing, if Gen Ed isn't challenging enough that the Gen Ed classes should be made more...challenging? On par with Challenge classes?

seattle citizen said...
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seattle citizen said...

I guess the question for me is why do we have "advanced" classes? Not saying we should or shouldn't, but just wondering.
For some few students, I get it: these students are, in almost all areas, identified as "above level." Either born to it or, with early enrichment, well-prepared to work a couple of levels above.
The rest...95%...are all over the map (no pun intended) skills-wise. Great readers...of fiction...but terrible writers. Good at math; hates science.

These are all "baseline" gen-ed - the students to be taught "at-level" in their grade and course.
So what is the purpose of "advanced," what do they offer? Do they teach 8th grade LA in 6th grade? More readings? More writing? If so, why can't ANY student be "challenged" in their coursework, shouldn't we be challenging students thusly every day?
Do we have Advanced classes to put on transcripts? To motivate students?
Who decides whether a student goes into an advanced class? Parents? Societal/structural expectations?

I can see a diverse selection of classes for student interest, so students can connect, but why advanced, aND shouldn't ALL students be challenged with such rigor (again, making an exception for the top, oh, five percent who are prodigies)

What determines WHO should be in an advanced class? ALL their abilities in a given subject? Or as a motivating tool? Or our own, adult desires?

seattle citizen said...

What if ALL classes were "advanced" and we focused our energy on those students who were struggling to meet those demands, rather than put them in gen ed classes that don't have the rigor and levels we expect for ALL students?

Anonymous said...

Well, Seattle Citizen, this is the hard part. I can tell you why I put my kid in APP (yes, I am old), but I will be told I am bragging and that I want to separate my kid from those I don't deem worthy to be around my "special snowflake" (these are the comments that tend to come up in these discussions).

Truly advanced kids learn more quickly and generally don't need repetition of instructions and can handle a longer list of tasks than typical same age peers, not to mention being able to handle more rigor. The teachers I spoke to who taught in both Ged Ed and APP taught each program differently.

Why do we expect all kids to be in the same academic classes when we don't expect the same for sports? Why is it ok to have varsity, jr varsity, and frosh teams? Why don't they all play together? Can't the coach differentiate?

Seattle Citizen asks: "What determines WHO should be in an advanced class? ALL their abilities in a given subject? Or as a motivating tool? Or our own, adult desires?"

How about this: What determines WHO should be in an advanced SPORT? ALL their abilities in a given SPORTSBALL SKILL? Or as a motivating tool? Or our own, adult desires?

I want a system that fosters all kids' abilities and their level - at ALL levels and to all abilities. I am sick of education being an area where it's ok to hold kids back. God forbid we do that in sports - our team might lose!!!!


seattle citizen said...

Thanks for the response, cranky. As I noted, I believe there ARE some students, a few, who are, in fact, either born with or learn ways of accelerating, etc, and maybe should be in classes above "level" (two grade levels above is kicked around.) I get that.
But you compare academic classes to sports.
Yes, of COURSE we would all love to have a huge variety of classes offered, where a student could take coursework a "level" above, or two, or three...But is that even enough? Classes, LA, for instance, have many skills and different sorts of content. A student might excel at one skill while not so much at another. Wouldn't it be grand to address the higher level of writing while still addressing the lower level in reading? How about we offer not only the ability for students to take different grade levels, but also skill levels?
That WOULD be nice.
But, aside from a small percentage of students who ARE, as you mote, predisposed to acceleration, etc, most students can rise to challenges. Forget APP for a moment - do you think that some students, non-APP, aren't capable of being pushed/mentored/taught "advanced" levels? They're just "Gen Ed" material? Or are they choosing to remain gen ed? Or their parents are choosing that?
What I'm (unsuccessfully) trying to say is that if we think a lot of students can take advanced classes (50%) and succeed in them, why aren't ALL students taking that higher level of coursework and succeeding with our help?
Are students who sign up for optional, self-selected (no tests to get in) advanced classes smarter than those who don't? Maybe in some cases, maybe not. Yet we hope or expect them all to meet the challenge. Why, then, don't we hope ALL students meet the challenge?

If we think any student can rise to the AP, Honors, IB or Chsllenge...challenge, why don't we think that about those students who don't choose to select those classes?

I don't think a student who takes Honors is necessarily "smarter" or more capable than one who doesn't. So why can't we push them all to that level, helping along those who need extra assistance?

The corollary is, of course, if any student can challenge themselves or be challenged to take advanced classes, and succeed, then the levels are set too low in the Gen Ed classes and THAT should addressed.

So, aside from APP, the top 5% (however you define those), why advanced classes at all?

Anonymous said...

I do think the level is set a bit low in gen Ed classes(though I also know many, many parents who are happy with it!). I also think if we lifted it(even just by providing more walk-to options), we'd naturally get fewer kids looking for more accelerated (HCC type) classes, because the gen Ed curriculum would be within their zone of proximate development, and so fine. Here's a quandary, though, how many kids would we be leaving further behind doing that? Not everybody does learn at a fast pace. How much in class support would, say, moving everybody up a grade level take, and how stressed out would more kids be? Have we ever considered that the kids not in Challenge classes don't WANT to be in Challenge classes? What if the non-Challenge classes are also rigorous and enriching, just for kids who prefer a slower pace- for whatever reason. Maybe they are near professional at music and don't want homework. Maybe with accommodations they could do it, but the family thinks the pressure the child feels is not worth it. I talk to plenty of families who wrinkle their noses and tsk tsk at the poor second graders in HCC who are expected to learn multiplication facts- too much pressure, thank goodness their school doesn't make their kids do that. There doesn't have to be anything wrong with gen ed. I wish we would stop thinking normal/regular/medium is "less." It's regular. Great.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you can all tell I've recently seen Race to Nowhere...

seattle citizen said...

Good points, sleeper. And that's a great movie.
I agree that there doesn't have to be pressure...and maybe shouldn't be...and that some students might WANT it...
Fascinating (and important) discussion. Thank you all. I've been pondering this for years and I'm still undecided.

I DO know that education is much, much more than test scores and percentiles. I wish we could afford to meet every student's needs (and desires.)

And I still wonder about motivations for pushing students "ahead", but that's just my suspicion that some people think an "AP" looks good on a transcript....

Anonymous said...

@ sleeper. "Have we ever considered that the kids not in Challenge classes don't WANT to be in Challenge classes? What if the non-Challenge classes are also rigorous and enriching, just for kids who prefer a slower pace- for whatever reason." I agree with you. My kid is in high school. Some kids choose to take AP classes and some don't. Some choose to take LOTS of AP classes and some choose to only take a few or none. Some kids really want the challenge and stress of AP classes and some kids don't. I like that there is a lot of that type of flexibility in high school. I like that each child gets to choose what make's sense for them and their life.

Anonymous said...

In terms of getting into selective colleges, AP classes do look better on a transcript than regular classes, though, right?


Anonymous said...

I think the why is impossible, though certainly drives a lot of people's opinions. Definitely there are some people who think it "looks good." Definitely there are some kids who are just pressured into it by obnoxious parents. There are obnoxious parents with kids in every program. But also there are some kids who are just really interested in these subjects, more than other kids. Also definitely there are kids who do just take in and synthesize material at a faster enough rate than typicaly that more material per year is necessary to let them learn anything new in a year. I don't think it's possible to just get these last two groups of kids, and exclude all the former ones. :/ And I am always wary of messing with programs because we don't like certain parents. That never ends up feeling just to me.


Anonymous said...

JvA- my understanding is that SOME AP classes look better than none, but that there are quickly diminishing returns. 1-2 is great. 5 a year doesn't help anyone or look any better to colleges, but there are kids who still do it, for a GPA boost, because their parents want them to, or because the kids just want to.


Anonymous said...

Sleeper -- I'd be interested in whether that holds true for very selective colleges. I would think a comprehensively rigorous high school schedule would be better than just 1-2 AP classes.

For instance, UC Berkeley says they consider " The applicant’s full record of achievement in college preparatory work in high school, including the number and rigor of courses taken and grades earned in those courses."


Anonymous said...

Seattle Citizen-

My belief is that much of the problem comes with the testing cult that we are all currently living through. We must teach to the test and that takes time away from other things the teacher would like to do. There's no time to help those kids who aren't getting it because we have a test coming up and so we can't slow down. Also, the larger class sizes mean that teachers have less time to work with kids who are behind, and we don't fund tutors as we should, so those who are behind stay behind. I would happily pay more taxes for tutors, but my tax dollars already don't go to education as they should. Teachers need much more help in the classroom if we expect them to teach all the kids in their class well.

You asked if all kids would be able to do advanced work. I think the answer is no. Should kids be pushed by teachers to reach their full potential? Of course, but we also have to be realistic and understand that "full potential" will be different for everyone . To go back to sports, is it reasonable to expect every kid to make varsity if we push hard enough? I don't think so. As adults, we understand that there are differences between people, but we don't like thinking that way about kids. Everyone has different talents and skills and children are no different.

You say: "I don't think a student who takes Honors is necessarily "smarter" or more capable than one who doesn't." I think with classes like AP, there is more to it than just "smart." I think this is where the talk of "grit" comes into education. There are some kids who are motivated to do well in school and there are some who are not. Why aren't those kids motivated? Maybe it's that they are sports focused or arts-focused, maybe it's that they have done poorly in school in the past and therefore think they are "bad" at school, or maybe it's just lack of interest for whatever reason. You don't need a gifted level IQ to do well in AP classes, but you do need to be able to sit down at home, by yourself, and do a lot of homework and write papers. That is a tough ask for some kids.

There are no easy answers to figuring out how to make education better for everyone, but we really need to try. Education in the US is getting to be scarily bad, and we will all pay a high price for it.


Anonymous said...

I am just at the beginning stages of thinking about this, JvA, as my oldest is still in middle school. I read a lot of Julie Lithcott Haims (How to Raise and Adult) and Valerie Strauss, and occasionally watch podcasts, and there are college counselors liked to and on all of those. This does seem to apply even to highly selective colleges, but it is possible there are nuances I am not getting yet (is Berkeley still just a matrix? That could make it different. And it may be they all mean- just 1-2 AP classes, assuming you have also cured cancer in the time you did not spend doing AP homework. If not obvs your only hope is 5 AP classes/year and a lot of luck). I think college admissions is generally amoving target, and is speciically right now undergoing some changes with regard to community service expectation.


Lynn said...

My senior has taken ten classes for college credit (AP, college in the high school and one summer class at the UW.) She chose to do this because she finds less rigorous classes tedious. We were not focused on admission to very selective colleges - just hoping to make high school as enjoyable as possible.

Of course not every student is capable of being successful in AP/IB classes. They are meant to cover introductory college level material. If every high school student could handle that, we would know that college classes were not rigorous enough. In the same way, some middle school students are capable of learning material generally taught to high school students - and others are not. There is no shame in working hard to master eighth grade level work when you're in the eighth grade. It is a shame though when children who are capable of doing much more are not allowed to progress.

Anonymous said...

SC: My only response is this: You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. As sleeper points out, we can't know all the reasons why some kids who are pushed excel, and why some who are pushed dig in their heels. Many smart kids hate homework, so they sign up for basic level classes, where they get an A. I did the same thing in HS English, because I worked and played sports, and didn't want to read Great Expectations. (I still haven't read that book, and don't plan to.) Why? God only knows. But a lot of us college-bound athletes were that way back in the stone age.

I've also seen Race to Nowhere and took that message to heart, as a parent of two very different HCC kids. One is a perfectionist, and one is much more amiable and easy going. Which one gets better grades? Which one is happier?

I think any kid who wants the higher level material should have access to it, but I don't think we should dismantle programs to offer it, because what we'll get in its place is phony-baloney "differentiation" which fails everyone but the middle chunk of the class.

Would that all kids were highly capable and perhaps all are, in some fora. But for reasons we can't figure out, some make the leap, and some don't, for dozens of reasons. Meanwhile, we adults freak out with our myopic beliefs that without a fancy degree from a top college, our kids will be collecting shopping carts in the future. Nonsense. Tell that to all my contractor friends, my mechanic friends, my friends who install hot-tubs and restore old cars - all of whom haven't cleared less than 200k per year in the past decade, compared to this dunce who went through grad school.

Education is very important. But it doesn't all happen in the classroom. Every glazier, farmer, and electrician I know are smart as whips, and none of them got A's or went to college. I promise you there are non-Challenge kids who will do just fine in life, probably better than the kids killing themselves in advanced classes.

That's the best I can answer your question, why not Challenge for All? Some don't want it and won't do it, regardless of their parents fears and desires. Let the kids have some input in this, since they are the beneficiaries or victims of it.


Anonymous said...

Lynn -- I had a similar experience in junior high and high school. I found regular classes incredibly tedious. I was overjoyed that starting in my sophomore or junior year it became possible to challenge-test out of every single normal class that didn't have an advanced alternative (e.g. personal finance). Whatever the solution to this problem is, I want kids to be able to pursue as much academic challenge as they want.


Anonymous said...

Amen on the testing cult and the AP looks good on the transcript stuff, SC. So true. Sadly, I saw Race to Nowhere about 5 years ago, but the AP mania still marches on like a cyborg. I'm living it right now with one of my kids, and the pressure is ridiculous. Fortunately, the kids sort of find their balance and get more selective about how much AP to take, but typically only after a tough year or two, after which many say, "it wasn't worth it."

On the other hand, going through that difficulty probably taught my kid valuable lessons in work-life balance that she'll carry with her through life.


Jan said...

Speddie said: "Our district's SM4 self-contained programs are similar. While they may look like they are doing something worthwhile in a few of these in elementary school, it's only because the students are young and seem like they might somehow learn something useful. By high school - these are the worst environments you can possibly imagine. At the SPS Adult Transition meeting, the Bridges4 teacher got up and told the audience his "adult transition" (18 - 21) class would 1. have circle time where they did date and weather (just like preschool) and 2. walk around the community (just like all these students do anyway). That's the end product of segregated "learning" environment - and where it ends up. No. You don't want that for your kid Jan. But hey, that doesn't sound like your kid."

You are correct, Speddie -- my kid has different (though profound) stuff going on. I realize that SPED is a VERY large tent -- and there are all sorts of abilities and opportunities denied by poor delivery of SPED by SPS. What you describe is deplorable and heartbreaking. What I was trying to say was -- I don't want to have to choose between between inclusion and having my kid actually learn -- and I don't think I should have to -- meaning I think both can, and should, be accomplished. But what you are describing is a neither/nor situation. These kids are neither included NOR learning. What do you advise we do -- not in the "overall policy sense" but in the sense of -- what is the actual next step to making a change?

Melissa Westbrook said...

What I would like to see is the district review what other districts with good Sped and highly capable do. There must be districts out there doing it right (or better.)

Chris S. said...

Having sat thru a lot of college-counseling presentations recently, I can tell you how they answer the AP/IB questions. Schools like UW, Berkeley, and on up the selective ladder want to see you have "taken advantage of the rigorous options available to you." Mostly, they want evidence that you could succeed in college. They don't say ALL of the rigorous options, and make it clear that if your school doesn't offer AP/IP you are not penalized. I think a B in an advanced class is probably better than an A in a parallel, less-advanced class. And non-class stuff matters too. Do you work hard at a job, sports, artistic pursuit? UW is very clear that they want to consider the full picture of a person.

That said, there are a lot of colleges out there that are less selective than UW where you can get a fine education. I know, I went to one! And, if you were a kid that hadn't found your passion/motivation in high school, there's no reason you couldn't start shining later, at a community college, and come out just fine.

Lynn said...

I am never sure what people mean when they refer to selective colleges. As a point of reference, my senior was accepted at the UW with a quite low GPA (for the UW) of 3.2. Her AP and SAT scores were excellent though and she writes an interesting essay.

Nothing is more important in high school than having a happy and healthy kid. Let that drive your guidance. If a full course load is what it takes, great. If one or two is best for your kid, that's awesome too.

Anonymous said...

Selectivity is determined by acceptance rate. It really isn't a clear indication of how hard it is to get into a school though. Especially private schools who can decide however they want. American University has an acceptance rate of 25% this year but took kids with lower GPAs over kids with high GPAs. For American, it is very important to them that you really want to be there. I believe UW's acceptance rate is running around 40% right now so it is considered selective but not highly selective. There are so many things that go into being accepted at a selective school other than GPA.


Anonymous said...

For purposes of this discussion, I think- Ivies, Stanford, Georgetown, Cal Tech, MIT, Harvey Mudd, probably many more, but something like those. I think selective pulic university acceptance is different (I went to a highly selective public university and think they are outstanding), because there are often literal GPA/test score grids of accepted/not accepted.

It is my impression that high school has changed significantly since we were there. I don't remember anyone being concerned even a little bit about all this Race to Nowhere stuff, and I was valedictorian, with as close to a full advanced course load as possible. But nobody, least of all me, had to work as hard as kids are expected to today. I don't know what my kids will be like when they are in high school yet, but I think unlike when we might have been in school, we should consider embracing the idea that many people are not taking the most advanced possible courseload because they don't want to, because it is too much (and is more work than the same advanced courseload would have been for us). And similarly, that though we need to keep something like Challenge Courses around for kids who really do need and want Challenge- it is not poor, left behind kids who are not in them, and they are not necessarily "better." They may just be more work. They may just be one year ahead, and not everybody needs to go a year ahead. At the same time we are all concerned about not enough rigor (and I am concerned about not enough rigor), we hear significant concern about kindergarten being the old first grade, that those expectations are not developmentally appropriate.


Anonymous said...

I had 2 kids test into APP. One was years beyond APP curriculum. The principal & teacher we met with told us that they would not differentiate classes & could not meet my kid’s needs. The local gen ed school told us they would try. So that kid stayed in gen ed with lots of opportunities to do completely different work or just a different take on the class assignments and consistent support & encouragement to pursue academic interests in any way they could think of. It worked well at that school. By the way that kid thought AP classes were a bigger waste of time than gen ed because they were so highly structured they limited learning & sucked valuable time.

The other kid tested into SPED, learning disabilities, emotional disabilities, executive function, sensory. Great, I thought. The differentiation is mandated by law, so for sure this kid is going to be taught at the appropriate level. HA. The only learning offered was in a segregated environment & was almost never specific or productive & academic lids were applied. Much worse situation in this case. In order to get what that kid needed I had to put the kid in APP with accommodations, extra support, & the sped teachers training the APP teachers. It worked because I was able to get the differentiation from APP that I could not get for the other kid.

So my conclusion from this experience is that every kid has strengths & weakness that impact academics in different ways & the curriculum & class structure needs to be flexible enough that different kinds of learners can learn from it. If Gen ed can handle my kid who was beyond APP & APP can handle my kid who was lower than gen ed, then I know it can be done. Because there are no two kids in any class who are learning the same way at the same pace. Even within one kid you can have learning 3 years ahead & 3 years behind; you can't track a kid like that. And students with disabilities should be in class as much as possible with all kinds of other kids, with whatever accommodations, modifications & support they need to be there.

Finally, I have seen this happen. I spent time in classrooms in a Seattle school where every student had their own personalized rubric for each unit. Materials were differentiated, products were differentiated, some were working in groups & some individually, they were all learning the same material at different levels & practicing different skills. Those classes had a couple of APP level students, ELL, Sped, etc. I saw this in a math class & in a social studies/LA class. I know someone who student taught in one of these classes & then upon finding out that no school she interviewed with was willing to entertain such a classroom, choose a different profession.

-Odd Ducks

Melissa Westbrook said...

Odd Ducks, interesting thoughts. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

UW selectivity:

Selectivity more selective
Fall 2014 acceptance rate 55.2%
Application deadline December 1
SAT/ACT scores must be received by December 31

Harvard selectivity:

Selectivity most selective
Fall 2014 acceptance rate 6%
Application deadline January 1
SAT/ACT scores must be received by March 6

That being said, there are perfectly wonderful universities like Oregon State University that takes around 75% of those applying. They offer scholarships based solely on GPA to WA state students and you can get a good engineering education there. For most people, it is not which college you go to but that you go to college in the first place and graduate that makes a difference.


Anonymous said...

What needs to change? We need more students served more equitably by regular classrooms. It may be less perfect for some - but it would better for many others. Nobody gets something perfect in public ed. The reality is - students with disabilities are segregated even when they are in "general ed" classes - because they aren't really general ed classes. In some of my own kid's classes - there is a 50% disability rate, by teacher report. This is far more than what is good for my kid - but better than self-containment or modified classes. And the other reality is - the students with disabilities in secondary school are overloads - so they sit in maximally crowded classrooms. Advanced classes tend to have far fewer students - even if HCC parents refuse to acknowledge this. In middle schools that don't have enough students for geometry, they get geometry with 12 kids. This takes a huge negative toll on students with disabilities, and others who struggle, or who are just average, and it needs to be addressed. The curve for self-containment needs to be based on our district - not national norms. I would suggest an absolute maximum of 4% on either end. While 4% for self-contained special ed would be an ideal maximum rate, half of that should be in ACCESS/inclusion programs. If that means changing what is taught, or how it is taught, then change what is taught. We need differentiation and flexibility in classrooms with the majority of our special education funding going towards that. Walk-to's are OK for some limited skill based instruction, but overall that has the same negative tracking effect as everything else. I would say Math OK - because it mostly skills based. LA not OK because there is a huge concept base, and cultural base to LA (literacy) beyond the skills or "reading" and "writing". We need a value on diverse learning, a true value. We need to make sure ALL classes are equitable and that ANY student could be included if it benefitted them. If a kid at the old Lowell needed to hear story time and hear actual language from children - then that child should have been allowed into the APP program, even if they were highly disabled and "not in APP". People have needs, and schools need to meet them. I know for a fact that this did not happen, even though it was completely possible to do. We need a central office special ed administration that gives a hoot about students with disabilities and who is responsive to families. We need real adult transition services - currently there's nothing. Or, I should say, there's nothing good! And finally - schools should be funded for the time students with disabilities actually spend in general ed - and that should be tracked. If students aren't sitting in a general ed seat - schools should track that and lose money for it. Value actual inclusion with dollars.


Melissa Westbrook said...

"It may be less perfect for some - but it would better for many others. Nobody gets something perfect in public ed."

So a different group of kids will have it worse? I don't accept that either. The studies have shown that high performing kids in a gen ed class help drive the class along, a good thing. And, that lower performing kids get benefit from that. But the high performing kids then don't get what they need.

Moving the deck chairs is not the answer.

HÇC kids in elementary certainly do not have smaller class sizes and probably not middle school either. The only place that would likely happen is AP or IB courses which are, of course, open to all.

"We need differentiation and flexibility in classrooms with the majority of our special education funding going towards that."


"And finally - schools should be funded for the time students with disabilities actually spend in general ed - and that should be tracked. If students aren't sitting in a general ed seat - schools should track that and lose money for it."

I want to say yes to this but I don't know all the ramifications for it.

Anonymous said...

No, if you have 12 kids who need geometry (or more likely algebra II), they are placed in a split class with the sequence below class, and teach themselves. You definitely don't get a tiny advanced seminar, at least not any time I have heard about it. The only place I have heard about anything like that happening is unpopular electives in high school (not advanced). I don't even know how that would be possible with the current funding regime. Maybe before WSS, when most schools had many more staff, so many students were able to benefit from occasional small classes.


Anonymous said...

Speddie said: "even if HCC parents refuse to acknowledge this."

Maybe HCC parents don't "admit" this because it isn't true, at least in my many years of experience with a child in the program. My child has been at Lowell, Lincoln, HIMS and now HS and has never once been in a class of 12, and I have never seen one. There was a class of 15 at Lowell once (this was around 11 yrs ago), but it was in a teeny room and they couldn't fit additional kids in. This class seems to be like Bigfoot with legendary stories about it. I was in in the room and there was not room for any additional desks.

As for kids mixing at Lowell, I did see it some. I have been around Sp Ed, but I know that I know nothing compared to parents with kids in the program. I am not suggesting I know fully what happened - I am only saying what I saw first-hand. I regularly saw Special Needs kids moved into the library (I volunteered in the library and was there a lot) for a class story time with various grades of APP. I also know Special Ed kids were included in music and art classes with APP kids. APP kids also volunteered to go into classrooms and do projects with the kids. My child worked on cooking projects in one of the rooms. Special Needs kids also came to all assemblies and performances in the lunchroom.

I was told that there was more inclusion done, but I won't comment on those since I did not see it first-hand.

Special Ed is a real mess and it's really hard to read the hell the district puts the parents and kids through. All involved deserve so much better.

-former Lowell

Anonymous said...

Being allowed into public areas is hardly inclusion. What other library would "they" use? Were students in the low incidence programs included on field trips - say to Washington, DC. Or during any actual class time. Special ed families complained that they were basically barred at the door rather than be included for any academic period. Yes. You can modify the heck out of APP materials - just like you can modify the heck out of general ed materials - for students who are as exceptional as the Lowell population is, extreme modification will be needed for any inclusion they receive. That said - some families were satisfied with the Lowell relationship, others definitely not.

I never said APP per se had reduced classes - but in secondary schools, definitely many advanced an specialty classes are reduced in class size. This negatively impacts students with disabilities - who are mostly not funded with a seat at all in secondary schools.

Melissa, UW has many studies that show students with disabilities do not negatively impact the classes they are in - so, no I don't buy the argument that all of these students who are marginally "ahead" will be somehow hurt by students with disabilities. That's a load. But if it is moving the deck chairs - how about moving them for equity for a change.


Melissa Westbrook said...

I didn't say kids with disabilities negatively impact a class; do not put words in my mouth. I said that lower performing students get more benefit from having advanced students than vice versa.

FYI, I have a special needs child. I know what it feels like and means when you feel your child is not being fully invested in a class.

Anonymous said...

If IEPs are individual I highly doubt it would be appropriate to put a "rate" on the number of SPED kids who should be in what is now known as ACCESS. The fact is that if a child is supposed to spend his-her majority of time in general education classroom as designated in an IEP then he-she should be there and not just during art. On the other hand, there are children whose IEPs do not find majority time in a general ed classroom is beneficial to a student. There are self contained classrooms for a reason. Even in those cases, schools with educators working as teams seem to find appropriate times and places to welcome those children into general education situations. Yes, SPS has a long way to go with its SPED program, but pushing for a quota of ACCESS SPED designees is not a supportable path.

Both sides

Anonymous said...

Small AP classes, what a hoot! I wish. Hale's Physics classes were oversubscribed and some kids were turned away. The AP Environmental Class was completely full. I know for a fact that Sped kids were in the AP Environmental Class and participated in field trips. My kid's AP Calculus class has 45 kids in it because the teacher didn't want to turn away anyone. The teacher has no time to even check if kids did their homework. The only AP classes I see that have been smaller are the language ones - AP Spanish, AP Japanese, etc. 2014/2015 Hale had 31% FRL. Not sure where it is at this year.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

"I said that lower performing students get more benefit from having advanced students than vice versa."

Wow, that statement is the most ableist and cruel statement I've seen on this blog in a while.

I don't care if you have personal experience, the whole concept, that it's a one way street of benefit towards the less-able, that there is no equal value to the advanced students from being with "lower performing" peers; that's sad that you feel that way.

Being around students of lesser academic ability can have very positive effects on advanced students, yes, even academically. Not being "advanced" does not mean a student may not be the most creative in the whole school, have the most original ideas, the most vivid imagination, have a special link to nature, have the most interesting life story, be the kindest or the best mannered.

Oh no, "lower performing" may be giving a lot more than they're getting from their "advanced" peers.


Lynn said...

Do you have research that supports your assertion that advanced students receive more academic benefit from a heterogenous classroom setting than a homogenous one? I know that's not true for gifted students but don't know the answer for high-achieving students.

Anonymous said...

Reposting for anonymous
Small class sizes (15-20) are one solution to being able to better serve diverse groups of kids well. I have seen it done well in fantastic public schools back east in LI. Flexible opt in honors programs should absolutely be available to those who need or seek the opportunity. My father was a free & reduced lunch kid. He would have opted in & done well in a public honors class if given that option at his public school in the S. Bronx. He was given an educational opportunity later on and he took full advantage of it. Ultimately leading teams of engineers in his career. It was not an easy path, nor a level playing field, but some people just need an opportunity. Don't assume only middle class kids would pursue honors classes if they were open to them.

Anonymous said...

Well Lynn,

I'm sure you know all the research and choose to ignore thee studies that show mixed ability classrooms, including ones with gifted students, provide academic gains for all students.

Here's one:

and this:

and this:

Do a google, there's lots more.

I agree Melissa made a very demeaning comment and I hope she retracts it.

Very Gifted

Melissa Westbrook said...

"I don't care if you have personal experience, the whole concept, that it's a one way street of benefit towards the less-able, that there is no equal value to the advanced students from being with "lower performing" peers; that's sad that you feel that way."

Didn't say I "feel" that way. We were talking about research studies and the ones I have read say that the average student benefits more from having high achievers in their class but the reverse is not true. I have frequently said that ALL children have things to give and teach others. We were talking about research studies.

Lynn said...

Very Gifted,

I'm out of time for reading right now. The sources I checked were the article from the Davidson Gifted website (which does not support your beliefs) and the following opinion piece:

From "Why Gifted Students Belong in Inclusive Schools"

One of the essential features of an inclusive school is a cohesive sense of community, accepting of differences and responsive to individual needs. And it is this sense of community that is disrupted by the practice of pulling out gifted children for special services. This disruption takes several forms.
The message that “if you're different, then you have to leave” may seriously challenge children's sense of a secure place in the classroom.
Removing children who are publicly identified as different makes it more difficult to promote multicultural education and a positive response to differences.
Cohesive communities require open communication about differences. Not discussing differences openly—for example, why only some children have been selected for the gifted program—can create a climate of distrust and alienation (Sapon-Shevin 1994).
Children's coming and going from gifted classes can disrupt the classroom flow and make it difficult for teachers to establish a cohesive group.
Taking children away from the regular classroom to meet their special needs challenges teachers' sense of themselves as responsible for or capable of teaching toward diversity (Sapon-Shevin 1994).

Lynn said...

This is not evidence of academic benefit to advanced children of heterogenous classrooms.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melissa Westbrook said...

Reprinting for Anonymous (no anonymous comments - give yourself a name):

The above article, listed by "Very Gifted," is in support of ability grouping - it suggests grouping by ability has positive effects on achievement of high ability students.

Anonymous said...

Here's the publication link again:

Here is the author's conclusion:

"Advocates of full inclusion and those who struggle for appropriate education for students identified as gifted must not become entrenched enemies. There is little that is incompatible in the vision of both groups: schools that teach, challenge, and honor children for who they are. If we must settle for classrooms as they are now organized and staffed, curriculum as it is currently defined, and teaching strategies limited to lecture and whole-group instruction, then it is no wonder that advocates for gifted students see the students' removal and segregation as the only viable solution.

If, however, we can envision new models of school organization, curriculum, and pedagogy, then we can embrace within that vision classrooms that meet the needs of all students, including those identified as gifted. If we can see our goal as not just saving those students for whom educational marginality or failure is considered intolerable, but as assuring educational success for all children, then there are other possibilities. And, if we can look at aspects of the current system that are not working for students labeled as gifted as barometers of an unsuccessful system rather than as justification for removing students to a better subsystem, then we can work together toward far-reaching, comprehensive school reform for all students."

I'd guess SPS is moving in this direction.


Lynn said...

Again, that's not research - it's opinion based on someone's fantasy of an ideal society. Beware of any change that has to be justified as necessary to shore up teachers's confidence.

It's highly unlikely SPS C&I could ever come up with grand new organizational and instructional models for schools - let alone something that worked.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So I think we have exhausted this subject for now.