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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

The Board Blinks?

From the Seattle Times today, an article about the vote tomorrow night on the package proposals surrounding graduation requirements. It seems enough Directors have heard from enough people to make them consider postponing their vote on Wednesday. This is a good thing for a couple of reasons.

One, simply that some of these things in the package are not like the others and the package should be broken out.

Two, clarification on what is in this package. I called the Communications department yesterday to understand if seat time is included and I got a very twisty answer. I want to see, in black and white, what Seattle Public Schools stance is on seat time for high school.

Three, the District should think carefully about something that is so contrary to public opinion. I thought it felt pretty across-the-board but the article names a number of heavy hitters who did not get on-board with these proposals, who let the district know they weren't on-board and who weren't afraid to say it outloud. I wonder if there was some private interaction between some of these folks/groups before they said it publicly.

"It sends the wrong message to every single person I can think of," said Lisa Macfarlane, a longtime Seattle schools advocate and co-founder of the statewide League of Education Voters.

"It's also opposed by Ramona Hattendorf, president of the Seattle Council PTSA and James Kelly, president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

"It's certainly a nice way of having more kids graduate but ... it's heading in the wrong direction," Kelly said."

Public opinion does matter. I was surprised but happy to see Peter Maier's comment:

"One of the troubling aspects of the proposal is that it doesn't address the real issue, which is what we do with these struggling students who are bumping along at the GPA bottom," board member Peter Maier said.

Other districts?

"Yet in Federal Way — one of just a few nearby school districts that also require at least a C-minus for graduation and to participate in sports — the change hasn't led to big problems. Superintendent Tom Murphy said he was skeptical at first and still worries that change might cause grade inflation. But overall, he says, it seems to have a positive impact, especially for athletes.

"It has shown kids that they can meet higher standards when they really want to and when they have to."

15 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

This grading policy reform package reflects very poorly on Michael Tolley and, in particular, on the High School Reform Steering Committee. I have been suspect of this committee for a long time and the generally poor quality of this product - not to mention the nine month delay in delivery and the failures to meet the community engagement standards they set for themselves - weighs heavily against them.

First, as I have said before, this is NOT an integrated package of reforms. Few of them have anything to do with each other. Two are about credit (middle school and hours of instruction), two are about how GPA is calculated (11 point scale, bonus point for honors, IB, and AP), one is about graduation requirements, and one is about eligibility for extra-curricular activities. They are all separate pieces that could be done - or not done - individually. They are not integrated at all.

There are a few elements here that are not controversial at all and can move forward - the 11 point grading scale, the bonus GPA for challenging classes, and the high school credit for high school classes taken in middle school.

There are a couple of elements here that simply dreadful and should be dropped - the end of GPA requirements for graduation and activities.

There is one here that needs exposition, discussion, and enforcement: the hours of instruction piece.

Moreover, the Policy is poorly written. The middle school credit element, for example, names a specific number of hours when it should, instead, say "the number of hours of instruction required by law". The way it is now written, they will have to amend the policy if the law changes. We know that they don't do that very reliably.

The Board needs to take control of Policy at least. They cannot claim to be swept along by the momentum of the staff's work. POLICY IS THEIR WORK. They need to take control of this action item and fix it. They need to reject the elimination of the GPA requirements and they need to address the hours of planned instruction issue.

BullDogger said...

It's not just Tolley who's failed. The legal dept. under Mr. Ikeda has played a large disturbing role.

When parents brought the classroom time issue last fall legal staff went to work on OSPI to reinterpret and therefore dilute the high school credit definition. SPS could have requested state waivers and moved towards correcting the non-compliance through the next year. Instead efforts went towards redefining state compliance to an absurdly low level no other district has even considered.

Now, as the policy is presented to the board, the classroom time redefinition has been kept as secretive as a public institution can muster. Their take on it when pushed is "alignment to state regulations".

These are the efforts that keep SPS communication officers fully employed spouting half truths. SPS and their legal dept. worked to kill any value in the state regulation and now want to align to that regulation. The policy has no meaning.

To me this sounds an aweful lot like the tree cutting issue at Ingraham. SPS Legal dept. goes to work doing what can be done (in a sneaky fashion) rather than what should be done. Where's MGJ in this equation?

Jennifer said...

Sorry not sure where to put this but it needs to be known and discussed as a large number of kids are not getting the appropriate math instruction and could fall even farther behind.

I have concerns about what’s going on at Salmon Bay. The 8th grade is using the 9th grade math curriculum, with the thought that, the kids who don’t do well will just get to do it again the next year and the other kids will have a head start for high school. This sounds like tracking and a VERY bad idea. The struggling kids will waste a year and be set up for failure. I can’t find any research that supports that idea, can you?

Having kids doing higher level math is not the problem. The problem is that the math instruction in not being differentiated to meet the needs of all kids. The 8th grade this year was doing CPM in 7th grade (on grade level) last year and now they have skipped to 9th grade math without district or parent buy in. When asked about it, the teacher said" the kids who don’t do well will get it again next year". That is not doing the kids any good. How is it less like tracking then offering kids and parents a choice between 8th grade & 9th grade math?

SP said...

The district is being very misleading about these grading & graduation proposals. In their presentations to the Board, the district has repeated their mantra as supporting data:

4/29/09 Board Work session PowerPoint: "Subcommittee was unable to find another public school district in Washington that requires a 2.0 GPA."

4/29/09 Grading Recommendations Table (included in 9/16/09 Action Agenda): "No other public school in our state has a 2.0 GPA requirement for graduation."

This is just not true- two nearby districts, Federal Way (also mentioned in the Seattle Times article) and Bellevue both have C ave. GPA requirements. Why does the district supply such faulty information for Board Members to make their decisions with? Then, at the last school board meeting, the district backtracked slightly and slipped in the comment that actually, no other school districts have both a 2.0 GPA requirement AND allow D grades as credit AND take out the F-grades (of course not, only Seattle would do that!).

Yes, the Board needs more time to separate out these issues before voting on this bundled package! In particular, the C or D ave. to graduate is a completely different issue than the definition of instructional hours per credit to graduate. The district is still in denial that there needs to be an open discussion about these issues before the Board has to vote, even though the district's own legal department has written that "any recommendations will go through a community engagement and stakeholder evaluation process, particularly if recommendations involve action by the School Board."

All of the review on instructional hours per credit has been behind closed doors, with no minutes available and no proper access to any reports or recommendations. We're still waiting for this to happen...

adhoc said...

what Salmon Bay is doing is actually the opposite of tracking. Tracking is when a school offers two or more distinct paths or "tracks" that kids can take.

When salmon Bay offered all 8th grade students the option of taking 8th grade math or 9th grade math that was tracking. College bound kids will take 9th grade math in 8th grade so they can take higher level math in HS. That's the college "track".

Salmon Bay has actually de tracked their math program by putting all 8th grade students in a 9th grade math class.

Is it right? No, probably not. It is unreasonable to assume that all kids can work an entire grade level ahead. Is the district aware that this is happening?

In all honesty I don't have any problem with tracking at all and don't know why Seattleites are so sensitive about it. What is wrong with Salmon Bay or any school offering 8th grade students the option of taking 8th or 9th grade math? I really don't get it.

ParentofThree said...

I think what Salmon is doing is great, although they really should offer bth 8th and 9th grade math and place students according to their ability.

I see this as raising the bar afer so long of lowering it!

SP said...

newly posted for the 10/07 action item re: grad/grading policies:

Motion to postpone the grading policy action to the October 21st regular school board meeting (Martin-Morris)

SP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue said...

I think the board is doing what they have done in the past. "Postpone" a contentious issue (see HS math adoption and school start times from last spring), because they realize parents are furious, then go ahead and vote the policy in anyways.

This way, they can say -"Oh we agonized over this vote, we took more time, but you know what? We decided that district staff worked really hard on this and we need to support them."

Just wait for the so called "public comment" period on the boundary line issue, it will be the same as this.

Urgh.

Maureen said...

I have responded to the Salmon Bay Math thread over at Harium's Blog in the Miscellaneous thread where Abby posted about it the other day.

hschinske said...

As I recall, the 8th-grade CMP materials are actually widely used to teach Integrated 1, so the difference between what they'd ordinarily be teaching in the course called "8th-grade math" and what they'd ordinarily be teaching in the following year is not nearly as great as one would suppose.

Helen Schinske

Dorothy Neville said...

Maybe this needs its own thread. Salmon Bay *is* tracking if it is telling every student to take exactly the same thing. Tracking is when the school tells the student what to take. Offering options is not tracking. Whether or not it provides more than one track is not the point. The point is the lack of option. The historic problem with tracking is that schools would tell some kids that they had to take the dummy track and would not let them raise to higher expectations. When you tell every student, regardless of achievement level or aptitude to sit in exactly the same class, that's tracking. You are just making everyone fit into the same track.

ArchStanton said...

adhoc said: I don't have any problem with tracking at all and don't know why Seattleites are so sensitive about it.

Tracking isn't necessarily bad, but unfortunately it carries some hard to overcome historical baggage around race and class.

Once a child is placed in a "lower" track, it can be stigmatizing, affect peer groups, and be difficult to move to a "higher" track. There is evidence that less-experienced teachers often get assigned to lower tracks and that tracking concentrates students with behavioral, learning, and disciplinary issues - which I expect decreases the effectiveness of any teacher and reduces the chance that a focused student will move to a higher track.

(my personal experience supports this)

adhoc said...

Sorry, I didn't know tracking meant that the school placed you in a track. I thought tracking was simply offering options such as a college track, etc.

So what about prerequisites? They are understandable and necessary. And they are required for students to take higher level math. Is that a sly way of tracking?

hschinske said...

There's a big difference between old-fashioned tracking (where students on the lower track had no chance at proper college prep courses *at all*, rather than just sometimes getting to them a little later than others) and flexible ability grouping.

Helen Schinske