Sunday, August 17, 2008

School Board Meeting on Wednesday

The agenda for the upcoming School Board meeting this week (Wednesday at 6p.m.) is rather light. This might be good given that I suspect there will be a larger than normal sign-up for the speakers list (me included). I hope the Board and the Superintendent have tough skins because there are likely to be a lot of slings and arrows directed their way because of the recent unhappiness over their plans for the cutting of trees at Ingraham.

(As an aside, I had been reading the BEX III Oversight Committee agenda for August and saw that a presentation had been made by Pacific Communications - a company doing work for the district and, I think, being paid by the Alliance - about a construction outreach program. I asked to see that presentation but sadly, it's not available online but the legal department did send me a hard copy. Naturally, I had to request this through them because of the still-continuing policy of Facilities to never give out information without forcing you to go through Legal.

This presentation was done on August 8th and the tree issue was quite hot then. This document doesn't reflect one word on SEPA or environmental concerns. I was quite surprised given the situation that BEX finds itself in today - arguing with both Denny/Sealth communities and Ingraham communities - over environmental issues.)

The Consent agenda is a lot of basic items one of which is accepting an over $800,000 program reserve from BEX II projects. Interesting.

The only Introduction item is for the Board to consider changing the Attendance/Participation and Grades policy. As usual, the actual report for the item isn't on the website (sigh) but it says it will be on Monday the 18th. I believe the basic issue is using lack of attendance/participation when grading but that the district hasn't done this in a uniform manner. Here is what the policy is in the School Board area. But here is what is included in the agenda in consideration of this item. I believe the language in red is what is under consideration.

This item also includes a report (dated April 2008) from a committee about attendance improvement and truancy reduction. It has some sobering facts. For example,
  • this is yet another problem of the VAX because of its delicate condition. Apparently, it is difficult to get information about absences and truancies directly to the schools.
  • the middle school with the highest number of students with 2 or more truancies is Denny (pop 629) with 191 and second was Aki Kurose (pop 465) with 182 students. The lowest were Washington (pop 1038) with 26 followed by Whitman (pop 931) with 38. Interestingly, middle schools with more students who signed an SAA (Student Attendance Agreement) had fewer truancies, suggesting that that particular intervention may have helped.
  • in high school, Franklin has the highest number of 2+ truancies with 461, followed by Ballard with 454. Roosevelt was the lowest at 121 followed by Hale at 124
The committee had some recommendations:
  • a return to using the "E" grade
  • telling the High School director to tell schools that they cannot legally use non-attendance only in the grading of a student
  • provide schools with a notice of intent for how to lawfully consider these factors in grades
  • focus on truancy in the grade levels where it is the biggest problem; 8,9,10.
  • coordinate with Metro so that school start times align with Metro schedules so that students have the best chance of getting to school on-time (without having to get there an hour early to do it)

    Charlie Mas said...

    Although the research makes it very clear that students are truant and drop out largely because they are not successful in school, and the research clearly recommends an emphasis on early intervention, particularly in the elementary years, there is nothing about doing that in Seattle to address our truancy and drop out problem.

    Where is the early and aggressive intervention plan?

    dan dempsey said...

    Speaking of truancy and attendance try the following on late work etc. the following link from Dallas Texas School Board decisions and direction.

    Dallas public school students who flunk tests, blow off homework and miss assignment deadlines can make up the work without penalty, under new rules that have angered many teachers.

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    Dan, thanks for the link. What absolute lunacy! I suspect Dallas will have people fleeing to private school. No deadlines for homework or projects? Wow. (That said, there are some teachers who are the worst about grading - unclear, unfair, changing the rules in the middle of the semester - those teachers need to be checked. But we need to be able to give teachers some measure of "their" own class.)

    Dorothy Neville said...

    I wouldn't be so quick to be outraged at the Dallas decision. Sure, the method of the decision is a bit draconian and misplaced, but overall it has some aspects that are worth considering.

    Would we agree that grading (assessment, report cards, or whatever term you use) ought to reflect learning the material and following the rules of the class? To what extent should mastering the material affect grade and to what extent should obeying the rules determine grade?

    Some are looking at school and noticing that some teachers are relying too much on turning things in on time and not enough on learning the material. (Recall that elementary school discussed a couple months ago? Late work would not even be looked at, just ripped up and thrown away. How in the world are those teachers assessing mastery or proficiency of the material?)

    So there are some good reasons to move toward more of a philosophy of Standards Based Grading. The particulars here are a bit heavy handed though. But the reasons behind have merit.

    I read an education blog written by a high school teacher who is very much in favor of Standards based grading. (Although probably would not agree with the Dallas School Board tactics.) One thing she has found with allowing late work, allowing kids to retake tests and/or homework until the end of the semester is that students and parents are happy with the opportunity. Then, most of the kids don't bother to follow through. That leaves her in the clear to give the student a low grade (as the student just never demonstrated proficiency) and at that point the parents are not on her back about it. They know exactly why their child got the grade they deserved. In the occasional case where the student was acting up in a teenage way --- slacking off, not bothering with achievement --- and saw the light before the semester was over, this has afforded the student to turn around and pass the course --- because they eventually mastered the material. She talked about one such student who saw the light and did manage to get the work done for her course to demonstrate learning. However too many of his other teachers told him --- with 6 or more weeks of school left --- that even if he rallied and turned in everything, the late penalties were so high there was no way he'd pass for the year. What a waste of six weeks of school and what a lesson for the student.
    (I'd link to the blog, but I often get technical difficulties reading it.)

    And some may recall the case written about in a Jay Mathews column a couple months ago. A gifted kid who would get 100s on all tests but failed to turn in homework. So his grades stunk. While I do not agree with the self righteous outrage of his parents at that, there is something to be said for not penalizing students too much for following all deadlines when they are clearly mastering the curriculum.

    What's the balance, where to draw the line? I posit that too many high school teachers draw the line too far in the "obey all my rules." The Dallas decision goes too far in the "mastering the material is the only thing worth merit" but mostly because it is a drastic change imposed from above.

    Jet City mom said...

    attendance is a sore spot w me.
    Id like to see attendance of classroom teachers charted.
    While D @ SUmmit had rotating substitutes one year in 5th grade, ( which went on in that classroom for several more years), and didn't feel prepared to take AP spanish @ Garfield because 3rd year Spanish was taught by subs- she also had problems with her attendance being charted by subs.
    the wrong entry made in the book- but we didn't find out about it, until too late to change, coming back from an appt and a bottleneck at attendance office- where the very hard working secretary was swamped, so D planned to do it later...
    Combination of those things happened a lot.
    I agree attendance is important, but frustrating when ypur child DIDN'T miss class but was marked absent.

    I also know classrooms where big deal was made about ONTIME assgns but box on desk held them for days until they were picked up.
    More devious students just slipped theirs under the pile, while others didnt do as through of a job in order to get it in on time.

    Jet City mom said...

    I would also love to know how schools handle tardies with metro.
    When yellow buses are late, students are excused.
    When Metro is late- and those who take Metro know that some times they even skip scheduled pickups so you have to wait for the next one- what does the school plan to do?

    I would like to see schools go back to having study hall 1st oeriod, if they can't all start an hour later, so that students aren't missing important class time when traffic is a mess.
    ( not to mention ability to think more clearly @ 8:30 am compared to 7:30 am)

    ( and what are they going to do about snow days? My D had teachers who didn't show up when roads were icy because school was on time- the kids have to show up but what is the point if the teachers aren't there? Many teachers live in outlying areas & I don't blame them if they don't feel safe driving- but how hard is it to make school an hour late?)

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    Good points, Dorothy. I probably jumped a little fast in my post. I see the idea of turning in work later - for a lower grade - but being able to at least help yourself rather than "oh well, I doesn't do any good to turn it in now".

    reader said...

    Would someone be able to give an update on the board meeting on wednesday. What was the upshot of the student assignment plan presentation? The pdf file they give online is painfully abstract. More smoke and mirrors?