Thursday, October 09, 2008

Former Bellevue Super Dies

Highly influential former Bellevue superintendent, Mike Riley, died yesterday. He was 58. Here is the story from today's Times.

I bring this to your attention because Mr. Riley brought real and concrete change to the Bellevue School District. Whether you agree or not with what his vision was, he was a force for change. He had left Bellevue district to work for the College Board that administers SATs and AP tests.

When the Bellevue teachers were on strike this fall some of their grievances stemmed from his legacy of trying to laser-focus curriculum and encourage all students to aim higher. The teachers' complaint was the the curriculum was too automated and left them with little room to individualize.

Interestingly, an article in the Times during the strike had a chart that laid out his legacy. I had read it (and saved it) intending to blog about it because the results were so striking. Here is some of it:

In 1997 and 2007 (my apologies, I tried to do this in a chart format but couldn't make it work)

Number of students taking AP exams: 210/2,263
Number of AP exams taken: 297/4,794
% of all 9-12 grade students participating in AP testing 4%/40%
Low-income grads with AP/IB on transcript N/A/75%
Dropout rate 17%/10%
National Board certified teachers 1 (in 2000)/158
AP test by:
African-American students 2/70
Hispanic 6/169
Graduates who took (and earned a passing grade) in at least 1 AP/IB class
55%(2002) /83% (2007)

This is important because it seems Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is going in this direction. Many of you may not know because you don't have high school students but next Wednesday, all freshman, sophomore and juniors are going to take the PSAT (the preliminary SAT which normally juniors take and determines National Merit scholarships). The district received a grant from Boeing to do this. Normally, it costs about $18 to take the test. In the letter sent home:

"The purpose of the test is to give all students an opportunity to experience taking a college readiness test and to identify students who might benefit from advanced coursework. Even if your child has not yet decided to attend college, I urge you to make sure he or she participates."

I'm not sure I agree that freshman should take it but I give the superintendent credit for trying it. What is unclear is how many students will show up that day. The letter doesn't make it clear but no student has to take the test. I'm sure some will skip out on it (it will take most of the morning to give and most schools will have shortened periods in the afternoon). Seniors are to work on their senior projects.


Education Advocacy and Policymaking said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Education Advocacy and Policymaking said...

It was very sad to hear about Mike Riley who was a national leader in closing achievement gaps using AP and student equity practices. Under his leadership, he actually worked on closing the achievement gap for all students without sacrificing high expectations and rigor. It was through this standardization of curriculum and equitable opportunities among schools that the Bellevue School District was able to achieve so much for all students, including non-traditional AP students. In the Bellevue District, AP offerings were open to all students and for the non-traditional students with little experience in academic rigor, there were programs (DURING the school day) and companion workshop/lab classes to ensure their success in AP classes. These types of strategies have been replicated throughout the country with huge successes in increasing student achievement and closing achievement gaps.

The Seattle Public Schools is trending in this direction, as recently seen in the AP Human Geography class being required for all Roosevelt 10th graders. The big differences in Seattle Public School’s effort in this Roosevelt test and those successful AP strategies used in districts like Bellevue, are that the Seattle School District is "not taking the AP talk and actually doing the AP walk".

To use AP as a strategy to increase student achievement scores and close the gaps, takes more effort than announcing publicly that this is your new direction. As seen in those other district’s who have done "the AP Walk", they know that it takes:
1. Identifying what goals (quantifiable and qualitative) have been set for this AP immersion and how will you know it’s a success!
2. Students are usually required to take "1 AP class during their high school years" and actually get to choose which AP course they take. This allows for students to demonstrate success in their individual areas of strength and not be mandated where their strengths “should be”, i.e. AP Human Geography.
3. Have a scaffolding of support systems in place to ensure the success of all non-traditional students. For instance, in AP programs similar to the Bellevue District, the Montgomery County Public Schools guarantees that no student, traditional or non-traditional, taking AP ever falls below a “ C “ grade without a series of supports to immediately take place. Student Failure is not an option and the supports are already integrated into these programs (and program costs).
4. The content of the AP classes is not watered down. However, students may be loosely grouped based on their individual needs for success. For students who are less experienced in AP rigor, a companion lab is required. This allows for students (in many urban settings) to receive AP remedial work during the school day and not as an option during after-school hours, which poses inequities for students who have after-school jobs to support struggling family incomes.
5. If PSAT tests are given early to identify students who "could benefit from participation in more rigorous courses", then the schools need to be able to equitably support the outcomes identified from this testing. The Bellevue District and those others experiencing AP successes have done this requiring basic AP offerings, as a minimum, in every high school. (Not the administrator's or teacher's choices.) For example, if a student is identified strong in Language Arts, then AP English courses need to be offered at the school they attend. This will require schools, local control or not, to support equity and offer the AP Basics.
6. Consider AP offerings as part of “their continuum of offerings for student success in preparation for college” and a partnership, not a competing entity. Seattle Schools has not adopted this mantra through school policies as seen by the very notion that schools like Nathan Hale are permitted to make AP an add-on, in addition to meeting regular class work expectations. More doesn't make it better! (This punitive view went out in the 70's when gifted kids were given extra or busy work and it shouldn't be practiced at a high school level.) In this case, an AP add-on, in addition to the regular coursework, happens because either course standards are unchallenging or teaching standards are low. Or maybe both?

It's a noble idea to give all students the PSAT, including the 9th graders who may not know how well they could do with more rigor. There are many students who have successfully taken AP classes in 8th and 9th grades. It’s even nobler to say this is the direction of your school district is taking.

But Seattle Public Schools needs to publicly articulate how it is connecting its AP dots so the public, the accountable school board members, voters, taxpayers, legislators, businesses, funders and parents can ALL see how the district is measuring their AP success and whether they are supporting their new AP mantra with those needed strategies for non-traditional students and equitable offerings that afforded the successes seen in other school districts like Bellevue.

Mike Riley will be missed by those who understood his fight to give all students equitable opportunities to succeed. He did so by doing the difficult AP walk and not just the talk. Seattle Schools should take note that just saying your doing AP to close the achievement gaps and prepare all students for college will not make it so…. without the necessary actions of the AP walk!

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Dr. Riley was truly inspirational. I had the privilege of meeting with him a number of times as part of the work I did for the Seattle Superintendent's Committee (CACIEE). I hope to post a blog in the future with some more details on his philosophies and methods. As Melissa pointed out, he was not without critics, but he certainly demonstrated results in the areas he chose to focus on. He was passionate and hard-working. His untimely deathly is a sad loss for the education community.

dan dempsey said...

I disagree with the first post by
"education advocacy and policymaking".

In regard to school matematics Bellevue did not close any achievment gaps (according to WASL Math Stats) at either the fourth or 7th grade level for either African Americans or Hispanics.

Bellevue's math pass gap widened significantly during Riley's time. Bellevue pass rates for 4th and 7th grade Black students dropped to where they were about the same as Seattle. Extremely poor math leadership at both districts brought about similar results.

Seattle's poor leadership in this area appears to be continuing for the long haul with Everyday Math and Connected Math project. Despite the huge increase in math class time for elementary school math classes and lot of professional development dollars, Seattle's 4th grade math WASL change from Spring 2007 to Spring 2008 was slightly worse than the state's change for all 4th graders.
For Black students it was worse than the State's Change for Black students. For fourth grade Hispanics the Seattle change was -10% whereas the State was -4.4%.

Modeling Seattle after Bellevue seems to be an idea to be avoided.

Seattle decided to use the same math materials that were well known to be a failure in Denver and is getting the same results.

Incompetent Leadership

Leslie said...

Sceptic said

Am sorry to hear of Dr. Riley's passing but pls. let's not forget the price paid for the AP offerings and high scores for their schools nationally. Those kids that are "average" or "below average" are shunted off to Robinswood an Alternative School (w/out choice) and breeding factory for bad behaviors and high drop out rate and NO AP offerings. Once there very very difficult to get out - that would not fly one day in SPS - nor should it.