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).”
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.