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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Physical Science in High School

Note: I pulled this out of one thread because I thought it important for parents to see and let their views be known to someone in SPS in a position to do something about it.  Thank you to Maureen from TOPS for this info.

If anyone thinks their 8th grader is prepared to skip 9th grade Physical Science (Seattle Girls' School? TOPS? Others?), please email the High School PTSA and Science Director, Elaine Woo (ewoo@seattleschools.org), and let them know right now. You can also email me at maureen at germani dot org so we can coordinate.

TOPS grads cover 100% of the 9-12 Physical Science standards and at least 75% of the 9-12 Life Sciences standards. Their teacher is certified K-12. There has never been a reason (or a way?) to make sure they get HS credit for what they cover but I spoke with Elaine Woo yesterday about the possibility of piloting a HS level Physical Science class at TOPS (not that I have to authority to do anything about it).

It makes more sense to allow those kids to access Marine Bio or Genetics next year than to risk permanently negatively impacting their HS science careers. Kids just like tham have been starting with Bio for years. There can't be a huge number of these kids to deal with and the higher level course is being offered (at GHS) anyway.

It might help if APP students could email the PTSA and Ms. Woo and let them know if they have found nonAPP students who enroll in upper level science classes to be well prepared. If they happen to know what middle schools those kids have attended, that information could be useful. TOPS, in particular, sends about 20 kids to GHS every year and from what I understand they do well in advanced science classes.

58 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's been a long time since I attended Garfield. We did not have Marine Biology and Genetics then, the classes we had were Geology and Hydrology. So could someone tell me how in depth these classes are? What is the level of difficulty? The reason I ask is because these are not easy subjects. At the UW, the Beginning Genetics course is a 300 level course, and Marine Biology is a 400 level course. So they are meant for the average upperclassmen in college. I majored in Earth Sciences and Biochemistry and I can say that I had to work quite hard for a good grade in Genetics. And Marine Biology had a lab that was quite challenging. So would a freshman in high school have the math and science knowledge needed for these subjects (we had to have at least one year in Biology and have finished General and Organic Chem and have taken a year of Calculus for prerequisites)? Perhaps they are taught differently at high school level? Might it not be better for the students to have taken at least Biology and Chemistry first, then take these two courses in their junior or senior year? Also, are the courses completely created by the teachers of these classes? If so, what will happen if those teachers get moved to another school or quit or retired? Can the school still offer these courses then?
My kids are only in elementary right now, but they have qualified for APP so I'm very interested in this matter as they might be attending Garfield in the future (and also I have very fond memories of Garfield, in spite of the busing).

SPS Parent

Anonymous said...

Oops, I have reread the original post, and I think I might have misunderstood it. It sounds like the wish is to have incoming 9 graders be able to take Biology and not Marine Biology or Genetics. I'd still like to know more about these classes though, if anyone is familiar with them. Thanks.

SPS Parent

JaneAddamsKindergartenMom said...

FYI - There is now an Intro to Marine Biology course offered at the UW (FISH/Ocean/Biol 250) that is fine for Freshmen to take without prerequisites. There is a 3 hour lab per week and a required field trip. The course counts for both the Natural Science and the Individuals and Society general education requirement and there is an honors section as well.

Moose said...

I have a question (coming late to the conversation)...is this science alignment a done deal? Is this something that the school board votes on?

I have been looking at college admissions websites and many of them look for kids to have completed physics. With this new alignment, most kids will not be able to take higher level science courses (astronomy, genetics) because they will have started with the integrated science. Thus to get to physics and to meet all other course requirements to graduate, kids will simply not have space in the schedule. Somebody on a different thread mentioned that some of these upper level science courses will become a "game preserve" for just a few kids in the system. The metaphor is apt, but I think it even worse -- these courses (and the opportunity for kids interested in science to take them) will go away.

Jet City mom said...

my daughter took bio in 9th after taking middle school science ( which included physical science) @ Summit K-12. She then took Marine Biology ( which is quite an intensive course), in 10th, Chem in 11th & Physics in 12th- she graduated in '08 from Garfield.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'd like to hear from some science teachers but I don't think the science alignment is a done deal but tick tock, time is passing.

Let me check into this.

Anonymous said...

So here we have dismal science and math statistics that get used to illustrate the "failure" of American schools, and we are discussing ways to help our kids navigate SPS byzantine science pathways so they CAN take more advanced science classes. You think the district would make this easy peasy instead of having to make kids and parents jump and beg for it.

It isn't just the financial house that needs tidying up, but basic curriculum management. Build a true, strong program not just for science, but LA, math, and people will come (they are already doing so @ Garfield, RHS, and Ballard biotech). Don't you have lots of highly paid, smart, well educated staff at HQ to do this?

Successful schools make happy kids (and parents)

dj said...

If TOPS is providing to students in middle school a more advanced science curriculum than is available to other middle-school kids in this district, I would also like some inquiry into how we can make sure that all motivated middle-school kids can access such courses. Can we replicate their program elsewhere? Can some of the TOPS parents here contact the district and lobby for that as well?

Maureen said...

dj, I would love for all Seattle MSs to offer rigorous science. One thing that makes it easier to do this for all of the kids at TOPS (i.e., not just those identified as Advanced Learners or even just 'motivated' kids) is that we are a K-8 school. One teacher covers all 7th and 8th grade science and has coordinated with the 5th and 6th grade teachers so all the kids can spiral through some of the more complicated subjects over four years. We also are able to teach Algebra I to ALL of the 8th graders because the same teacher covers all of the kids for 7th and 8th grade so can accelerate all of them so they can get through the 7th-9th grade curriculum in two years.

This could certainly work at other K-8s, but might be harder to implement for all of the kids at a comprehensive MS. It also requires a certain basic level of commitment from the teachers--both the math and science teachers hold regular catchup sessions during lunch or after school for kids who are struggling. And the 7th-8th grade looping must help a lot, since they can start faster in the Fall of 8th grade.

I would be happy to ask the District to improve science instruction for all middle schoolers. I wonder what model makes sense for large comprehensive MSs?

It seems to me that moving 9th grade Physical Science down to 7th/8th grade and using 6th/7th grade to cover the Life Science standards might make sense, but I'm not a science teacher. It seems to me that one of the challenges of teaching a reasonable amount of Chem and Physics to MSers is that it really helps to be able to do some algebra. Our kids learn quite a bit of algebra when they do stoichiometry in 8th grade (concurrent with studying it in Math), but I'm not sure all 8th grade science teachers are willing or able to do that.

Bird said...

I'm interested in what Maureen has to say about TOPS being a model for how Middle School science (and elementary) science should be taught.

I notice, however, that TOPS has significantly lower science scores on the state test than some other middle schools.

TOPS 8th grade science pass rate: 45.3%
Eckstein: 83%
Hamilton: 68.4%
Washington: 60%
Madison: 69.8%

What am I to make of this?

Bird said...

Oh yeah,

And Whitman: 65.8%

zb said...

So have these kids really covered the physical science standards? They're pretty extensive?

If anyone is interested in quizzing their own children, AAAS has a science assessment site that describes common misconceptions in life/physical science/earth science, with example quiz questions.

The test isn't set up as a quiz, but if you click on a topic, and then click on the "Item ID number" you can get a question + the number of 6-8 or 9-12 graders who could answer it correctly.

(Registration required, but it's free).

zb said...

I'm guessing TOPS may have a higher than average opt out rate. But, I'd also like to see an explanation of the numbers.

Maureen said...

Bird, I know,the TOPS Science WASL scores aren't great (though last year's cohort wasn't very representative (18 points lower than the previous 7 year average) for a variety of reasons.) I have never claimed that the TOPS science curriculum does a great job of preparing kids for the 8th grade science WASL, but I do think it does a great job at preparing them for HS and college science courses.

Personally, I really don't care how they do on the 8th grade science WASL. I have never seen any evidence linking science WASL results to success in HS science courses. Is it out there?

Bird said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bird said...

Ah, I do see that last year's TOPS scores were unusually low compared to previous years, but I also notice that TOPS' previous years' scores weren't unusually high compared to other schools.

I don't know whether the state science test is useful as an assessment or not, but the scores do bring to mind a couple of questions.

I'm definitely interested in hopping on the middle school science improvement bandwagon, but my information about the quality of the TOPS program is pretty much limited, at this point, to heresay. Is there any hard data on the program's success?

Won't the state test scores be problematic if you are lobbying the district with the message that TOPS science students are well prepared to skip 9th grade physical science?

zb said...

"I do think it does a great job at preparing them for HS and college science courses."

What alternative assessment (to the WASL) are you using to come to this conclusion?

I don't know where one would look for evidence comparing 8th grade WASL scores to HS science performance. There is a study looking at 10th grade WASL performance and 1st year GPA in college -- shows that it's about as good as the SAT in general, but not as good as predicting performance in particular classes, w/ maximum correlations of about 0.4 (McGhee (2003)).

Anonymous said...

I wish I had all of you at my dinner table on Saturday. We had 3 families over and were discussing this very topic about how difficult it is to figure out pathways for our kids to take more advanced classes. Except for one family with a child in APP, the rest of us have spectrum kids or gen ed kids (strong in math or the arts). One family has a child going into 9th at Ballard and the kid is on pins and needles hoping to get into 32 spots for biotech. He signed up for advanced math and he knows he has to take the physical science test and pass it (more stress).

The rest of us with NSAP are facing a mediocre MS assignment for our kids. One family is already looking at private MS instead for their soon to be 5th grader. The reason is our public MS is too uneven in the academics. It becomes a game of who you get for a teacher to get the in depth LAs or math. The science program is too dismal all over to game.

Which brings up the very topic dj and Maureen discussed re: math and science in MS. During dinner, what we 4 families came to realize is how "underwhelmed" the math and science curricula (even honors math) are and how they do not challenge our kids who can do more if given the chance.

We are working parents so it is not easy to supplement. We supplement in the summer with various camps if the kids want it. The one family is going private school because they figure it is worth the 20+ K to work extra to pay for the private school then worry from year to year. For those us who can't, short of moving, what can we do to get the district's attention? To us, this is basic stuff. Shouldn't this be more of a district's priority than TAF and TIF?

PS mom

Dorothy Neville said...

HS Science WASL did not exist in 2003, so cannot be part of that study.

I don't know about TOPS; it does sound like anecdotal evidence and I don't know if we can get better data from that.

But it does align with the conclusion that the Ballard HS teachers made that students coming into 9th grade ready for Geometry can and do succeed in Biology and the rest of high school science. Therefore this new exam is an artificial gatekeeper.

My anecdote is that my son had the absolutely dreadfully terrible semester long physical science class in 9th grade at RHS. He learned nothing, nothing, nothing, unless you count that he learned he could bring computer games into the building on a thumb drive and play them during class, thwarting whatever no-game rules there are on the district computers. Many other RHS students have had to waste 9th grade science opportunities by taking this dreadfully awful class, learning virtually no science and yet RHS graduates attend and succeed in college at very high numbers. Fixing RHS science would be eliminating the problem by allowing students ready for geometry to start with Biology, not expanding the physical science class to a year.

I'd like to see MS science beefed up, for sure (except for 6th grades science at Eckstein which was awesome, but of course alignment would destroy that). What used to be a main problem was that it was only taught a semester each in 7th and 8th grades. I believe that's changed? Has it? I don't really think that middle school students can master all the physical science HS standards, but a good MS science program could provide the background for it in such a way that the p-science standards could be covered in the Bio-Chem-Physics trio of classes without having to have a stand-along physical science class. And Ballard -- bio in 9th grade -- and Roosevelt -- crappy semester long p-science in 9th grade -- already succeed with high college attendance rates. Why go backwards?

Jan said...

I think Dorothy's last paragraph nails it. If parents/taxpayers can come up with such logical, reasonable approaches, why can't the SSD's curriculum folks get there too?

Maureen said...

Won't the state test scores be problematic if you are lobbying the district with the message that TOPS science students are well prepared to skip 9th grade physical science?

They may be, since that's all they seem to measure now, but I think Peonypower pointed out recently that the state is moving towards End of Course exams in math and science, and the WASL has never been applied for graduation, so it may not matter at all. I wish they would just find out what material was being covered in different schools and account for that. Or listen to the HS teachers.

It will be interesting to see how kids from different schools do on the Ballard piloted placement exam. I don't have any hard data from the old RHS exam, but 4 out of 5 TOPS kids passed out in 2008 and my kid doesn't know of anyone from any other school who did (of course that doesn't mean they don't exist). (I think about 15-20 kids took the exam that year.)

zb, thanks for the reference. I can find a reference to the title, but not the document itself. Do you know if it linked Science WASL results to higher ed science results or just math and reading?

Maureen said...

I forgot that most middle schools didn't offer three full years of science. Is that still true of some schools or do they all offer three full years now? (I can see why District 8th grade WASL scores have been on an upswing lately.)

Maureen said...

I feel like I should make it clearer that I'm not saying that anyone who graduates from TOPS should be able to skip to Bio and grads from other schools should not. I'm sure there are many kids out there who have a strong enough background to skip the Physical Science survey course (the texts and syllabi I have seen show it covers a basic intro to Chemistry/Physics/Earth Science/Astonomy and Ecology).

I think it's great that SPS is putting a system in place to catch the kids who haven't absorbed that material in MS (including some TOPS and APP grads I'm sure). I just don't see why they insist on trapping a whole year of kids in that safety net. I think they need to have a way to identify which kids need it and which ones don't. I think Dorothy and the Ballard teachers may be right when they say concurrent enrollment in Geometry (or higher) could be an easy and appropriate test.

Bird said...

I don't really think that middle school students can master all the physical science HS standards, but a good MS science program could provide the background for it in such a way that the p-science standards could be covered in the Bio-Chem-Physics trio of classes without having to have a stand-along physical science class.

This seems pretty likely to me, but I thought that Bio-Chem-Physics are not currently required and will not even in the upcoming alignment be required by all students. So kids who manage to skip physical science, and move straight to Bio might bail on the rest of the science sequence and not get the minimum amount of knowledge we expect for a graduating senior.

Perhaps in practice, this would occur rarely, I don't know.

Jan said...

Bird -- there is an easy fix for that. Require that any student placing out of physical science and into bio take at least 2 years of high school science.

Maureen said...

I think part of the problem has been the uneveness of prep from different MSs (and unevenness in how the kids absorbed the material), so 9th-12th grade science teachers had to slow down and teach basic skills and knowledge that the kids should have covered in MS.

I do think they should make some attempt to separate out the kids who didn't properly cover at least the MS standards and get them caught up in 9th grade so that Bio/Chem/Physics can move ahead more quickly. Maybe this isn't a problem anymore if all of the MSs are doing three full years of science? And maybe it shouldn't be a problem for the high schools that offer Honors Science classes? (Though I have heard that doesn't necessarily solve the problem.)

SE Mom said...

In the absence of "data" to add to the discussion, I will relate more anecdotal information:

My kid graduated from TOPS last year. She is in a private high school. She is taking Biology this year and doing extremely well. She plans on taking AP Biology next year, Honors Chemistry as a junior and AP Physics as a senior.

She is also in a honors Algebra II class this year. I do know that out of a class of 64 at TOPS for 8th grade, 6 of those students qualified to start high school with Algebra II and the majority of the rest with Geometry.

The part of all this that really gets me in a lather, is astonishment that girls who are interested in math and science would not be encouraged to work to the full extent of their capabilities!

This issue really is not that difficult to solve and there seems to be several possible solutions.

Bird said...

What's the standard middle school math sequence?

I'm an elementary parent, and I always get confused when people start tossing around info about when geometry and algebra are taught.

SE Mom said...

Middle school math is supposed to be the CMP2 books. The high school "Math Pathway" is supposed to be Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II,
PreCalc or higher math (Calculus).

Some middle schools offer Algebra I
or higher. Washington Middle School, for instance, has all kids test into math at 6th grade and they are placed in classes accordingly, whether they are APP, Spectrum or Regular program (unless something recently changed).

zb said...

"HS Science WASL did not exist in 2003, so cannot be part of that study. "

Yes, they analyzed math/verbal scores, not science. The study is interesting. It would be nice to see similar studies for MS/HS transitions, a method of validating the tests that the school district might have information to do internally (or to provide the data, appropriately masked to others0.

zb said...

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBQQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.washington.edu%2Foea%2Fpdfs%2Fcourse_eval%2FMcGhee_wasl_July2003.pdf&ei=Sp6jTazZPIX0swPSkMz4DA&usg=AFQjCNHqhmiD1TSw593ZvGpJ0vv9CzAvOA&sig2=_MwDqjed3FfhyX1F1RZVjA

here's the link (sorry it's a mess; I don't know how to hot link).

The analysis is on verbal/math scores, but they have an interesting breakdown where they examine performance specifically in a subset of known courses at UW (with high enrollments) as a function of WASL/SAT/ACT scores.

It's a deep link and available by google searching on the title of the manuscript: "the relationship between wasl scores and UW performance . . . .", but I don't know whether it's a public document.

hschinske said...

http://www.washington.edu/oea/pdfs/course_eval/McGhee_wasl_July2003.pdf is a little bit better link. This should be a hot link, if I've done it right.

Helen Schinske

this is not cool said...

That's an interesting study, but right now I'm trying to digest this:

From the Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) we obtained Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) scores for all Washington State public school students who took the battery in spring 1999 during their 10th grade year (N = 72,279). ... The OSPI and university datasets were matched by student name and birthdate...

Am I really reading this correctly? OSPI handed out over 72,000 records of high school students across the state to the UW, including their names, birth dates and test scores?? Aren't there some kind of privacy laws in place to prevent stuff like this from happening?!

Charlie Mas said...

PS Mom's comment was heartbreaking. I don't have an answer, but I do have an explanation.

While some students arrive at school with better preparation than other students, the egalitarian political ideals of public K-12 education culture demand that all students get the same instruction, lest any be seen to be "better" than others or be seen to be getting "more" than others.

zb said...

I wondered about the privacy concerns, as well as concerns that google had indexed something that wasn't supposed to be generally released. Might be worth contacting the author.

More freakishly, in my google searches, I found a document that listed WASL scores of students in a (non Seattle) school with names. Clearly a privacy violation, probably accidental resulting from an in sufficiently secure site.

Anonymous said...

At the (public) high school I went to in 9th Grade, the school looked at middle school science grades, math level, and general academic performance and recommended that about 10% of the incoming 9th graders enroll in biology instead of physical science. If anyone else wanted to do so, they had to "apply" but an application consisted of showing decent middle school science grades and convincing the science teacher you were willing to work hard. Why couldn't we have such a simple system?

--amsiegel

this is not cool said...

zb, do you remember how you found that information (search terms, or pathway that got you there)? I'd like to do a little digging. That kind of personal information about kids should never be made public out on the open internet for google to index!

zb said...

"That kind of personal information about kids should never be made public out on the open internet for google to index!"

I agree wholeheartedly, but don't want to publicize the info and thus spread it among a wider audience. I'll go ahead and contact the school district involved. You've reminded me that it's probably a responsibility of mine as a good citizen.

this is not cool said...

zb, yeah, that occurred to me as well (not to list the info here), and I was (I guess too obscurely) hinting you could post info here that would allow me to find the data without actually listing a url, or even the verbatim search terms.

But honestly, the damage is done. Once goog gets hold of stuff they have it forever, and it's at their discretion whether they pull it from their main indexes. And other search engines probably wouldn't even bother to respond to a removal request.

The thing to do is to figure out how this happened, and how to prevent it from happening in the future. What does OSPI need before they'll hand over 72,000 personal test records? If I asked them tomorrow for the same records, would they be obligated to give them to me?

Anonymous said...

For Garfield kids, one of the worrisome aspects of this new science curriculum shift is that it sets some kids back as compared to their peers. Kids strong in science and math who are in Spectrum or Gen Ed will now be 2 years behind APP kids at Garfield. The School District is making it very hard for these 'single gifted' kids to compete. They are not allowed into upper level science at Washington Middle School no matter how strong their abilities and then they get to Garfield and cannot compete with APP kids who are already through Physical Science AND Biology.

Maureen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maureen said...

A meeting was held last night (4/26) at Garfield to address the impact of High School curriculum alignment combined with the APP (Accelerated Progress Program) curriculum acceleration. I know that some readers may not see the APP acceleration as relevant, but it created some unintended results at GHS that exacerbated the problems caused by the alignment.

The combination of alignment and APP acceleration meant that no 8th graders were permitted to register for Biology as freshmen and all non APP students would have been required to take a Physical Science survey course. In addition, the proposed structure would limit non APP students’ access to advanced courses at GHS that the APP students would be able to fit into their schedules.

A group of TOPS parents and alum were following this issue and began contacting District and Garfield staff and additional stakeholders about three weeks ago. I got the impression that others contacted the District and Kay Smith Blum as well. The end result was this meeting which was facilitated by the GHS PTSA. The roster of speakers included Cathy Thompson, Elaine Woo, Bob Vaughan, from the District; teachers, a counselor, the ASB president and parents (APP, non APP and Urban Scholar) from Garfield; parents of incoming students from TOPS, WMS and private schools; and Director Kay Smith-Blum. Science coaches and Kathleen Vasquez attended as well as GHS Principal Ted Howard. The agenda was well crafted and the meeting was well run thanks to GHS PTSA president David Foutch and member Polly Davis.

Cathy Thompson (now the senior administrator in charge of academics) spoke first and announced that the District had just that day come up with a solution to the problem of 9th grade science placement at Garfield:

• For this year, they propose a solution that students who want to skip 9th grade Physical Science take a placement exam to be offered at GHS sometime in early June. Whether or not they pass, they can register for Biology for 9th grade. If they fail the exam, they will be required to take Physics later in their High School years. (The same exam will be administered to incoming Ballard students, but is not as yet planned to be offered to students entering the other High Schools.)

• In the long run, they plan to offer HS level Physical Science to 8th graders. This will be piloted at Washington Middle School beginning next year. The hope is to offer this at all Middle Schools, but the science teachers have to be accredited to teach HS first (and they seemed to think there would be an expense-perhaps for books?).

The group as a whole found that to be an acceptable solution to the science placement problem. However, the meeting went on for another two hours as a discussion of the impact of the collision between alignment and APP acceleration. Many eloquent people spoke. The ASB president and Garfield parent Mary Ann Gwinn were particularly effective I thought.

Kay Smith Blum was there and I expect everyone who benefits owes her a measure of thanks. It might be worth contacting the other School Board members to voice your support of this plan before the May meeting (they will be voting on materials adoption, but it seems to be related.)

If you have a student who you think should be able to go straight to Biology at a HS other than BHS or GHS, you should probably contact the principal and counselor of the school and Elaine Woo and Cathy Thompson (they are resistent to administering the exam to a large group of students, but it seems to me you should just be able to promise to take Physics later and skip the exam altogether.)

Bird said...

For this year, they propose a solution that students who want to skip 9th grade Physical Science take a placement exam to be offered at GHS sometime in early June.

Uh, so I'm still confused. Why isn't this an option at all high schools?

I mean I understand that district is bowing to pressure from parents who expect their kids will attend Garfield, but what is the justification for not applying this district-wide.

Lame.

Stuff like this makes me crazy!

Maureen said...

Bird, I specifically asked that question and Cathy Thompson said that the consultant who has created the exam is really resistant to administering it on a large scale since it is new and hasn't been widely tested. She also has to score them all herself, so that is part of it.

It seems to me that since, if you fail, you can still take Bio but have to promise to take Physics later, that anyone who promises to take Physics should be able to go straight to Bio without taking the exam. I would encourage anyone this impacts to make that argument (right now!) with the High School and Ms. Thompson and Ms. Woo. (I didn't pursue that course at the meeting since everyone there was happy with the Garfield solution.)

zb said...

Yes, stuff like this makes me crazy, too.

But, I don't understand the logic of any of it at all. Why would taking physics later after failing this exam resolve the deficiency? Because there's physics in the exam, and that's what you're going to have missed by not having had adequate physical science? If so, doesn't that mean that students who did have adequate physical science, but now have to take physics with students who haven't are going to have to take steps back to wait for the other students who didn't have the pre-req to catch up?

And, do the APP students also have to take the exam? Or only the students who weren't in the APP program (regardless of what their own backgrounds maybe -- to be noted, some of those private school students are already in APP-parallel programs, at Seattle Country Day, or Evergreen as two possibilities).

I'm guessing that part of the issue is the test itself is being validated and no one really knows how to use it. But, the whole system is illogical.

And, sorry, but I'm one of those people who *is* upset about students in one place having access to pathways that aren't available elsewhere for arbitrary reasons like this, and would rather everyone not have them. I'm willing to be thought of as petty, but there's another more important reason. When special escape hatches are allowed for the squeakiest wheels, it makes it less likely that the inequity and policy will change for everyone. Instead, the squeakies get what they want, and the quiet folks continue to suffer the unfairness, and the bad system (if it was bad) stays in place. Conclusion for me: I advocate against the opportunity being offered to a select few unless it's offered to everyone.

Moose said...

Word, zb!

I spoke with Elaine Woo two weeks ago, and she wouldn't commit to the Physics instead of Physical Science option. She told me to speak with the principal at the high school. Guess what? The principal wouldn't commit to a Physics instead of Physical Science option either.

This. makes. me. crazy.

Maureen said...

zb, I agree with you in principal, but what I try to do is to squeak loudly and long enough that things eventually get changed for everyone. The problem I have is that support does tend to drop off after the larger groups get what they want, so you have to just keep pushing and hope that momentum carries the smaller less vocal groups along. That's what I'm hoping is going to happen with 9th grade science. The problem is that the timing is such, that if it doesn't happen within the next few weeks it won't happen until next year.

Moose, Cathy Thompson just worked out the placement exam/physics option with the consultant on April 26th so Elaine Woo couldn't commit to it before that. What HS are you dealing with? Maybe if you have a critical mass of kids to negotiate for the principal could be moved? And can you put together a document that shows that those kids covered the HS Physical Science standards? I'm willing help any group keep pushing.

Bird said...

So why are we hiring a consultant to put together the placement test? Why would Cathy Thompson be grading them? Is she even qualified for that? It seems insane.

Call me naive, but if I were asked to put this sort of thing together I'd a ask the science teachers to design a test and ask them to grade it, spread the work out across all the schools. Of course, I would be relying on them to guide the shaping of the alignment in the first place.

It sounds like this is just a crazy thing imposed on a bunch of people (students, teachers and families) who don't want anything to do with it. When can we stop hiring consultants for every little thing? Maybe when we can't afford summer school anymore?

Maureen said...

Sorry, I wasn't clear, Cathy Thompson isn't grading them, the consultant is. I got the impression that the consultant was developing the test for some other reason and when BHS wanted a way to place kids into Bio, they (Woo?) decided to use it for placement. (The consultant is apparently a PhD in Physics and she used questions from some other test banks and has run the test by a variety of SPS teachers. It's supposed to be based on WA standards and I believe it's computer based, which seems to worry the GHS teachers since, I think, a bunch of their computers are out of commission, Then there is the MAP and is the HSPE online now?) I don't know why they didn't just use the Ballard teacher's method of allowing anyone who qualified for Geometry or above to go straight to Bio. Maybe Peonypower knows?

zb said...

So, I have a problem with this whole issue on principle, because I worry that allowing kids to skip through/advance through sequential curriculum without having some form of rigorous evaluation of whether they've learned the curriculum serves some of the students poorly. I haven't had enough experience with what the kids are learning to know whether this is true or not, but I think a lot of kids think that they've "learned" something when they've just seen it, and that it's easy for people to miss fundamentals.

I think that at least some of the science teachers are worried about the same sort of thing (though I'm not in a position to have any special knowledge).

And, this scheme, of allowing people who don't pass a placement exam take a course if they promise to take physics later on feeds into those worries precisely.

I don't have a ninth grader who this is effected (my kids are younger). I fully understand that if I did, my first priority would be to figure out what they needed and try to make that happen. But, I hope that all of you at other schools who sincerely believe the same opportunities are right for your kids are making as much noise as you can.

Moose said...

@zb -- believe me when I say that I am advocating for every single rising 9th grader in SPS.

peonypower said...

So I heard about what happened from the department head at Ballard who had just spoken to Elaine Woo. At Ballard if you fail the test you do not get to take biology as a freshman you get to take physical science so even how this "pilot test" is being applied is inconsistent. I call bull@#$% on this. As for why the Ballard method of using geometry as the gatekeeper was not chosen Ballard was told "but we have to make sure the kids are being taught the standards" and that was the arguement for not using that method. The whole plan is ridiculous. Also Ballard science does not agree with this "pilot". It is not equitable, and we argue for equal access for all. I suggest bombarding school board members on this as well as any media outlet, parent group, etc. This alignment also speaks to Charlie's long thread on Nova and how to meet the needs of students. Canned one size fits all curriculum is not how you inspire kids. 5

Maureen said...

peony, that is so weird. I could have sworn that Ms. Woo said that the Ballard kids would have the same rule - 'swear to take Physics' - if they fail the exam. And I'm pretty sure it was said in public at the Garfield meeting. Can anyone else who was there support that?

Jan said...

Peonypower: the reason it is so ridiculous is that they are trying to do a principled retreat from a ridiculous policy. Since the initial policy was so flawed (force everyone to take phys. science in 9th grade, without thinking of the effect on high school transcripts, specialized academies like the one at Ballard, etc.) the retreat makes no sense. That is because the REAL solution here is to can the entire decision and redo it. The right answer here (to postpone the roll out for a year, and redo it, by moving physical science to 8th grade and keeping the high school curriculum intact) is not hard, but it requires admitting fault -- which they will probably not do -- because too many of them have MGJ "hubris" disease and simply don't believe they could be wrong, or because there is no culture there that supports thoughtful retrenchment in the face of adverse data.

Absent that, this STILL isn't hard. Here is what they should do:
1. Let each 9th grader "pick" whether to take phys science or biology. If they pick physical science, fine. If they don't, then they have to either take and pass a physical science test OR take it at some later point before graduation (I would also give them a pass if they pass the science HSPE, but maybe I am overreaching).
Not every test has to be taken in June, or in September, if that would delay or overwhelm the consultant (don't get me started on THIS one). If APP has slightly different rules, because those kids are one to two years ahead, so be it -- though

Voila. Solved. Works for every school (no more inconsistent rules to drive zb over the edge). Doesn't overwhelm the consultant while he/she develops a test. And MOST important, doesn't an entire class (next year's rising 9th graders) off the bus, all to preserve "face" downtown.

Why is this so hard?

Maureen said...

Two reasons they thinks it's "hard"

(1)Not all Middle School teachers are certified to teach a High School level class. I'm not sure what disaster occurs if a MS certified teacher covers HS level material, it's not like the kids actually have to get HS credit--they just need to know the stuff. But it might be a bit much to ask to suddenly have every 8th grade science teacher have to prep a new curriculum with no training(contract issues? I don't know).

(2)Cathy Thompson seemed to think the tests have to be given to all the kids on the same days or else they will share info and cheat. Sigh.

Moose said...

Another reason they think it is "hard" -- the deadline to meet state standards is this fall. Elaine Woo told me that the committee had to work on alignment first and then work on exceptions or alternate pathways to meet state standards after that. Programs at Ballard (Biotech) and Garfield (Marine Biology) have forced alternates earlier than they wanted to consider them.

I asked Ms. Woo: 1. Why these alternate pathways to meeting state science standards weren't worked on concurrently (surely they could/should have anticipated push back?) since rising 9th graders didn't have the luxury of year while SPS figures all this out and 2. why this opportunity to take the physical science test as an 8th grader isn't being offered across the district?

As to point 1, I got an answer of how hard the committee is working and that they are doing what they can. (I am unsympathetic, since they are fooling around with hundreds of kids' transcripts while they scratch their heads and work all this out.) As for point 2, I got an answer that they need to pilot the physical science test and to do that, they need to start small.

This is a systemic inequity. By the "luck" of a zipcode, some kids might have an opportunity for an alternate pathway, while their peer in a different zipcode doesn't? Kids in one zipcode will have room in their schedules for upper level science, such as astronomy, genetics and marine biology, while kids in another will not.

Contact the School Board, Cathy Thompson, Elaine Woo, the principal at the high school your child will be attending and start making noise NOW. They are still figuring all this out down at the Stanford Center.

Maureen said...

Cathy Thompson is presenting this to the Board on Wednesday. Here's the Powerpoint.

Slide nine says:
•New pilot: Students entering BHS and GHS can take a standards-based physical science assessment to demonstrate their understanding of the standards.
–If students pass the physical science assessment, they can take Biology in 9thgrade.
–If students do not pass, it is recommended that students take Physical Science. Also, students can take Biology if s/he agrees to take Physics before graduating.

Maureen said...

Science alignment (and the Powerpoint I linked to in my last post) has been pulled off the agenda for this week (postponed to next meeting). I signed up to speak and will get a slot if the roster doesn't fill with people addressing agenda items. I plan to ask that any rising 9th grader be allowed to register for Biology if they are enrolled in Geometry (or higher) and promise to take Physics later.

Is there anything I should know?