Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee meeting notes

The Board Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee met yesterday (Monday, April 7). The agenda included an update on Creative Approach Schools, information on the application for a SIG grant by Rainier Beach High School, an update on Special Education program placement, and an update and further discussion on potential changes to the High School Graduation Requirements and High School Grade Marking.

Creative Approach Schools

Principals from three Creative Approach Schools came before the Board Committee seeking support. The principals from Thornton Creek, The NOVA Project, and Queen Anne Elementary asked the Board for three things:
  1. A stated Vision for Creative Approach Schools and a statement of how they align with the Strategic Plan. What is the role of Creative Approach Schools? Are they supposed to be incubators of innovation? If so, then why don't they have license to do things differently? Does the District want and value innovation?
  2. A clear statement of the range of flexibility allowed Creative Approach Schools. What sort of things can they do differently? Instructional materials? Instructional strategies? Budget? Transportation? Nutrition? Working hours? Class size? What are the bounds of their license to innovate? Right now nearly all of their requests for variances are being denied.
  3. Support for Creative Approach Schools within the JSCEE. They would like the Superintendent to identify a point person for Creative Approach Schools who will act as their advocate within the JSCEE or at least their liason. Ideally, they would like an Executive Director for all of the option schools across the district. In the absence of someone assigned to the responsibility there is no accountability.
The principals are not getting support from JSCEE departments for their efforts. They are not being allowed the latitude they need - and were promised - to innovate. Instead, no one at the JSCEE seems to have ever heard of Creative Approach Schools and they are being forced into the standardization applied at all schools. They can't alter their FTE as determined by WSS. They can't alter their transportation or their lunch program. They can't get their grading practice to work with the new student information system. HR appears unaware of their teacher hiring practice. They are getting no cooperation from Finance, Transportation, Nutrition, HR, IT, or any of the other JSCEE departments. Moreover, the majority of their requests for variances are getting denied. Worse still, they are required to seek waivers for each individual change - the approval of their CAS application, which should act as a sort of umbrella license for all of these changes, doesn't actually grant them anything. The principals acknowledged that they are doing their best to comply but that they are also doing what every other school in the District does: just going ahead and doing whatever they want - in violation of District policy and procedure - with the full expectation that there is no oversight, that even if the violations are discovered the rules won't be enforced, and, even if the rules are enforced there will be no consequences.

Sad, eh?

The likely outcome from this will be some sort of meeting of department heads in which they will all be told about Creative Approach Schools and asked (without any specific enforceable meaning) to accommodate the schools' requests for variations from the standard practices. Except that their requests for variances will continue to be denied. Teaching and Learning may stop requiring waiver applications for every change. I would not expect the schools to get the one thing they want most: A statement of a Vision for Creative Approach Schools. That would have to come from the Board - they are the folks who are supposed to be providing the Vision - but, if you haven't noticed, the Board has refused to offer any sort of Vision on anything. The Advanced Learning Community has been asking the Board to articulate a Vision for Advanced Learning for thirteen years without success. Nor do you see any Vision statements for Special Education, ELL, International Education, or anything else. They will likely refuse to offer a Vision on this as well. I suspect it is because they are too timid to lead on anything and want to be directed by the Superintendent.

SIG Grant for Rainier Beach High School

Rainier Beach High School has applied for SIG grant from the state/federal government. The grant, if approved, would provide about $4.3 million over three years to support the school's "transformation" efforts. SIG grant schools are required to make radical change like schools in Level 5 of No Child Left Behind. They can close and re-open the school with new staff, replace the principal, or undergo "transformation". Seattle schools have always chosen "transformation". Under NCLB this transformation usually takes the form of doing a bit more of what they have been doing all along. A SIG grant provides the funding for real transformation, as we saw at Cleveland, Hawthorne, and West Seattle Elementary. Rainier Beach would use this money to provide an extended school day and extended school week for students, professional development for the teachers (primarily in support of the IB classes), leadership coaching, and support for family and community engagement work.

Rainier Beach has very high participation in IB classes. That's because they have made IB Language Arts the standard, required course for all 11th and 12th grade students. So they have 95-100% participation in IB classes by 11th and 12th graders. The 9th and 10th grade Language Arts classes have been reportedly bolstered into "Pre-IB" or Honors classes to prepare the students for the rigor of the IB classes they will be required to take as juniors and seniors.

The grant, if awarded, would require the school to meet Annual Measurable Objectives, which, for Rainier Beach, would be improvement in their on-time graduation rate. There is some urgency to the grant application (it has already been submitted without Board approval and they are seeking the Board approval retroactively) because the school has actually already improved to the point that they will no longer qualify for the grant. The three-year trailing on-time graduation rate has to be under 60% for the school to qualify and their on-time rate last year was 69%. They expect to do as well or better this year, so they won't qualify for the grant next year.

Special Education Program Placement

This was a very confusing presentation. The three people from Special Education who presented the information to the Board Committee constantly contradicted themselves. They said that Special Education was a service, not a program, and then they talked about all of the Special Education programs. They said that they were making a comprehensive fundamental change in Special Education but the only changes they ever described were name changes. They seemed very, very concerned about what things are called, but continued to call the Special Education sites "programs" after saying that they were not programs. They said it was all new, but that it was a continuation of a six-year effort. For all of their inability to say anything intelligible about what they are doing, it appears that what they are really doing (or at least what they say they are doing) is good.

Students with disabilities, as a result of these changes, will be assigned to their attendance area schools or one close to their homes. No more bus trips across the district. Students with disabilities will spend more time in general education classrooms getting instruction along with their typically developing peers - with support. The new system for service delivery, as described at this meeting, has three models:

  1. Resource Room. Students spend the bulk of the day in a general education classroom without any direct support in that classroom from a Special Education IA, but they spend part of the day getting intense support in the Resource Room. A sort of pull-out delivery model.
  2. Inclusion. Students spend at least 50% of their school day in a general education classroom with the direct support in that classroom from a Special Education IA and part of the day getting Resource Room support.
  3. Self-Contained (although they have a new name for this). Students are in small classrooms with other students with disabilities that require similar support. The teachers and IAs in this classroom are all Special Education professionals. The students spend less than 50% of their school day in a general education classroom with typically developing peers.
The Special Education folks said that this is the first year of the new model and the Resource Room delivery model was implemented this year. They said that the 2014-2015 school year will be the second year of implementation in which they will start the Inclusion delivery model. Those are the program placement changes they were reporting. They made it clear that this was all part of a big, well-established plan that reached back six years and is rolling forward with consensus support including the support of Task Forces, Advisory Committees, PTAs, and the community.

A couple interesting things: the Special Education folks were very proud of the - apparently new - effort to provide students with disabilities with some actual instruction instead of just warehousing or babysitting them. They were also proud that of their new authority to place Special Education students in schools where either the principals had previously vetoed the placement of such programs or the schools have rejected the programs for lack of space. All of this is, of course, good, but it kinda makes you weep for how it used to be and how everyone in the JSCEE leadership was okay with that.

Math Adoption Update

Short version: The final recommendation will go to the Board on April 12 25th.

Interesting tidbit: There are significant price differences in the three materials under consideration. The budget for this is $5 million over seven years (the regular $0.5 million per year for materials plus $1.5 million extra for the adoption/change). enVision's bid came in right on budget: about $5 million for seven years. The Go Math bid came in significantly under budget - about $3 million. The bid from Math in Focus, however, came in significantly over budget - about $7 million. Moreover, Math in Focus is seeking more of the money up front. It's a real budget buster. What's up with that? The adoption task force is asking but doesn't have an answer yet. Math in Focus is an Americanized version of Singapore Math. They may be charging more because they can get it. Whatever the market will bear, right? Can you imagine the school district saying that Math in Focus was the best choice but our kids' math education wasn't worth another $2 million over seven years? That will look great in the newspaper.

High School Graduation Requirements

Michael Tolley, once again, came forward seeking the deletion of the 2.0 GPA requirement for graduation. As I have previously reported, only one other district in the state, Bellevue, has a GPA requirement for graduation. The other 293 do not. The requirement that students pass the state proficiency exams fills the purpose that the GPA requirement used to serve. There is real concern that the elimination of the GPA requirement will play badly in the media. Last time it was proposed it was framed as a reduction in rigor. This time the proposal will come with some intentional PR to support it.

The state requirement of 24 credits for graduation will roll out, but, apparently, without any of the supports that were supposed to accompany it. No additional equivalency for CTE courses. No additional opportunity for students to get credit by demonstrating proficiency. No additional opportunity for students to earn high school credit in middle school. No additional support for credit recovery. No longer school day.

The high school day in Seattle is six periods. If students take a full schedule of six classes every year for four years and pass every class they will earn the 24 credits required for graduation. If they either do not take a full schedule every year or they fail even a single class they will not have the 24 credits required for graduation and will have to either attend school for another year or somehow make up the missing credit.

Consider the impacts.

One of the more common and effective supports provided for struggling students is a support class (typically done for math). 9th grade students are in the Algebra class along will all of the other freshmen, but those who need support also spend an hour a day in an Algebra support class. I don't believe any credit is awarded for the Algebra support class, so in a 24 credit graduation requirement model, that class has to go away. There's no room for it in the student's schedule.

Students used to be able to re-take courses they failed during the summer at summer school, but budget cuts have all but eliminated summer school for credit recovery. Other credit recovery models (before and after school classes) have also been eliminated by budget cuts, including budget cuts to transportation. Students can do credit recovery online, but that also requires funding and equipment which may not be readily available.

High School Grade Marking

The District currently determines high school grade level by credits rather than chronologically. A student is a 9th grader until they have 5 credits, no matter how long that takes. A student is a sophomore until they have 10 credits, etc. This would be fine except that the money available to support students who are not on track to graduate on time is only available for students in grades 11 and 12. Since we regard many of those third and fourth year high school students who are not on pace to graduate on time as 10th graders, we are losing out on that funding. So the idea is to call students 11th graders in their third year of high school no matter how many credits they have so the district can get funding to support them.


Charlie Mas said…
Yes, I am moving to Virginia. I am back in Seattle (I arrived yesterday in time to attend the C & I meeting) for the last time as a resident. I will be here for about two weeks to pack up and then, after SakuraCon, I will load a truck with my stuff and drive it cross-country to Charlottesville. After that I'll just be back in Seattle to visit family, friends and clients, but I will no longer be a Seattle resident.
David said…
This is awesome: "The principals acknowledged that they are doing their best to comply but that they are also doing what every other school in the District does: just going ahead and doing whatever they want - in violation of District policy and procedure - with the full expectation that there is no oversight, that even if the violations are discovered the rules won't be enforced, and, even if the rules are enforced there will be no consequences."

One conclusion might be that policy needs to be enforced and central admin needs to be fixed. But another might be that, since the principals do what they want anyway and central will never be fixed, we'd be better off with a much smaller central administration and moving the money currently wasted in central down to the schools.

Which conclusion do you favor, Charlie?
Anonymous said…
Bellevue is widely regarded as the most rigorous school district in the state. Families regularly move there for the schools. The 2.0 GPA is a statement that kids not only have to attend, they have to put an effort into learning.

End of course tests are suspect in the way the MSP is suspect. Would rather have the district than the state judging kids achievement. They are closer to the kids. Additionally many studies more closely correlate GPA than standardized tests to an indicator of college success.

Please don't go Harium Martin-Morris on us, SPS. Don't kill GPAs as a factor for graduation.

"Higher Expectations"
Boy, what a wrap-up. (The Superintendent told me last night he saw Charlie's motorcycle and knew Charlie was in the building. When the Superintendent knows your vehicle, you're on his radar.)

On Creative Approach, what a waste. Why spend the time and effort to create this only to NOT allow innovation? Just opens the door for charters.

The Board has either been scared into not being more active (by the dreaded "micromanaging" tag) or just can't keep up (and there's something to that idea as well).

To note (and several parents told me this), you can only take one science class per year in high school (except for the Biotech program at Ballard).

We aren't standardizing education? It sure looks like it.
Anonymous said…
I don't understand why there needs to be additional support for CTE equivalency. WAC 180-51-025 gives local school boards the authority to determine which courses satisfy which graduation requirements. Many school boards (not sure about SPS) grant this authority to the high school principals via board policy. So, if the principal determines that Applied Math (a CTE course) is equivalent to Algebra I, then they are equivalent and a student who passes Applied Math meets the Algebra I credit graduation requirement. Period.

As for earning credit for proficiency, that's a trickier thing. RCW 28A.230.100 and WAC 392-410-340 grant school boards all the authority they need to grant credit based on proficiency. However, there is no mechanism to drive FTE (funding) for the award of credit based on competency testing or otherwise. In other words, high schools are reluctant to award credit that doesn't come with funding. But the bottom line is that they can do it, they are just choosing not to do it because of the potential loss of FTE.

--- swk
mirmac1 said…
I wish SPS would apply their "project management" approach to the SpEd service delivery roll-out - like they do for pet projects. It is immensely complex and costly, and vital for our students.
Charlie Mas said…
Is it crass of me to note that granting high school credit for courses taken in middle school, granting credit for proficiency, and CTE equivalency would all help to ease the capacity crisis?

@ Higher Expectations, Bellevue got its reputation by gaming the statistics, so I see no reason to emulate them in anything based on that reputation. Also, the EOC and the HSPE are NOT suspect. Where did you get that idea? As for college success, that's not what this is about. Get over your narrow privileged idea that college admission and success is the goal of high school. It isn't.

The GPA requirement adds nothing to the other requirements.

Here's a question: do Ivy League universities have GPA minimums for graduation? Here are the graduation requirements for Harvard College. There is no GPA requirement. Is Harvard not rigorous?
Anonymous said…
Wait, why is the final recommendation for the math adoption going to the board on April 12th when the materials are available for public review until April 25th? I was planning to go look at them during spring break, but I guess I better figure out when I can do it in the next 3 days. Except of course that making a final recommendation half-way through the public comment period makes it REALLY obvious that they aren't paying any attention to the public comments anyway, so perhaps I shouldn't waste my time.

Mom of 4
Anonymous said…
Charlie, how would granting high school credit for courses taken in middle school, granting credit for proficiency, and CTE equivalency would all help to ease the capacity crisis? These would help capacity ONLY if students graduated early (or left for Running Start). The vast, vast majority of students earning credits in non-traditional ways will likely still be enrolled in the high school for 4 years. Are you suggesting that capacity only in traditional college prep courses would be relieved? If so, I'm not sure even those would be significantly affected.

And, you've contradicted a long-standing truth understood on this blog --- that the MSP, HSPE, and EOCs are unreliable, invalid, and soul-crushing instruments of torture. Shame on you.

--- swk
"And, you've contradicted a long-standing truth understood on this blog --- that the MSP, HSPE, and EOCs are unreliable, invalid, and soul-crushing instruments of torture."

I think you're trying to be funny but if not, who said that?
Linh-Co said…
The final decision for the math adoption will be April 25th. That is the day the Math Adoption Committee will meet to deliberate.
Charlie Mas said…
When my daughter was asked if she would like pie or ice cream for dessert she answered "Both!" and that's pretty much how I would answer your question.

Yes, I would very much like to see the district enforce policy.

And yes, I would very much like to see a smaller central administration.

These two may appear contradictory, but the part that makes it work is for the central administration to stop doing a whole lot of things that it should not be doing.

We need to get a mission statement for the central administration. The District's primary mission is educating students. All of that work is done in the schools. None of it is done in the JSCEE. The people working in the non-academic departments of the JSCEE have the mission of taking on all of the non-academic work, thereby freeing the schools to focus on their primary duty. We need to determine which of those tasks are best done in-house and which of those tasks are best out-sourced. I think a lot more of it should be out-sourced. It isn't done particularly well by in-house staff and the management of it distracts from the primary mission.

The big question remains: what is the mission of the Teaching and Learning department of the central administration? It is two-fold. First, to support the educational efforts of the schools by taking on the academic tasks that benefit from economies of scale. This would include work that can be done once centrally instead of repeated in multiple buildings. Second, to oversee the work done in the schools. The mission of the central Special Education staff should be to confirm the quality and efficacy of Special Education services across the district. It's not just compliance, but also quality assurance. They should certify, for the community, that the education provided in schools and programs meets the benchmarks set by the District.
Charlie Mas said…
Oops! I got the date wrong on the Math Adoption recommendation. It's April 25. The committee is reviewing comments and feedback weekly as it comes in and they will review the final two days of comments at the start of their marathon meeting on the 25th.
Anonymous said…
Does anybody know whether presentations were made at the committee meeting, and how the public can get copies? Are these meetings recorded live?

Charlie Mas said…
Committee meetings are not recorded and there are no PowerPoint presentations. Materials are often distributed, but there is no public access to those handouts unless you pick up a copy at the meeting. You can contact the person who distributed the handout and ask for a copy.
Anonymous said…
Melissa, most recently commenter Sahila said that and a few weeks back commenter CT said that. They both (and I'm paraphrasing) stated that there is no evidence that standardized tests are reliable and valid measures of student knowledge. Sahila went so far as stating that most standardized testing has been invalidated by research. Of course, they were not referring directly to the WA state tests, although CT was commenting on the use of WA state tests in teacher evaluation when she/he made her/his claim.

There was not one word from you challenging such assertions. Not one. And when I pointed out there was research that shows that the MSP, HSPE, and EOCs are reliable and valid measures of student knowledge of the state's content standards and I received sarcastic and insulting replies, did you defend my assertions? No. You were silent.

The "soul crushing" part came from a teacher who posted on the Testing Talk website, which you provided a link to. She was not referring to the WA tests, though.

The "instruments of torture" part did come from me. I think I got that from a line in a movie.

I have read that you support some standards and assessments, but you don't say which ones. You opted your children out of the WASL prior to high school.

I'm not going to say that YOU ever stated that the MSP, HSPE, and EOCs are unreliable and valid. But your silence when others claim as such ON YOUR BLOG and your lack of challenge of such claims is significant. You are an influential voice on these matters and you've earned that influence. Hell, you're a leader in the Opt-Out movement in the city.

So, I don't believe you are insensitive to the undercurrent running beneath this blog that the MSP, HSPE, and EOCs (and all standardized tests used to measure student performance) are bad things and they are bad because they are poor instruments.

In conclusion, you never said it (as far as I know) but your silence on this topic is revealing.

--- swk
Charlie Mas said…
There are literally thousands of comments made on this blog. Melissa's silence on any of them does not imply acquiescence. How odd that anyone would think that it does. This is a (largely) uncensored forum. People can say what they want, whether it echos our perspective or not. We are under no obligation to address and correct every statement that differs from our perspective. Again, what an odd expectation.

If Melissa has been silent on an issue then readers cannot reach any conclusion about her thoughts on that issue. To do so would be pure conjecture and, frankly, kinda rude. It is presumptuous to tell other people what they believe.

More specifically, Melissa is pretty much done crossing words with Sahila and I don't blame her if she doesn't care to engage there again.

Finally, I would be very surprised to learn that Melissa has the expertise and knowledge necessary to reach any conclusion on the validity of any standardized tests (used for their intended purpose). For that matter, I don't believe that Melissa has ever asserted the validity of high school grades. So they share the same fault as the tests.

In future, please constrain yourself from telling other people what they think, what they have intended by their silence, or what they believe. Not only is it a feeble argument, it's rude.
Anonymous said…
Charlie and primarily Melissa, my apologies. I've been on the receiving end of such assumptions more times than I can count. I was wrong and rude to make such assumptions myself.

I aim to do better in the future.

--- swk
Eric B said…
My daughter is currently taking Biology HL and Chemistry SL (both IB) at Ingraham. It is possible to take two science classes there, at least in the IB program. I don't know about any other schools.
Hmm, Eric, I have heard this story about only one science course twice. I'll have to ask why I keep hearing it.

"Hell, you're a leader in the Opt-Out movement in the city."

I am? I think that rather, I have a tiny bully pulpit and I use it.

SWK, I can tell (sincerely) that you are an intelligent person and you make (yay!) points with data to back it up. I'm not offended because I know that what Charlie says is right. I don't answer every single comment and my silence does not mean I agree with anyone.

It is a fine line of what is insulting or not and I do try to keep people in line. I don't always succeed. It is the nature of open forums that sometimes people can be not as kind or nice as they could be. Me included.
syd said…
Charlie - will you continue to post on this blog, or is this goodbye?

maureen said…
Melissa, I expect if you look into the issue of taking two science classes, it will hinge on how liberal a school is able to be in granting waivers for PE and CTE (etc?) requirements. From what I understand, IB full diploma candidates have state level assurance that their diploma satisfies state graduation requirements. So what applies at Ingraham (and Sealth and, now, RBHS) may not apply at the others. (And even at those schools, you might have to commit to the full IB diploma to be able to take two science classes at once.)
Charlie Mas said…
It is most likely that any rules about what classes a student can take are all made at the school level rather than the District level. It is also likely that even if there were a District rule about it the decisions would still be made at the school level as if the District rule were not there. That's pretty much how everything works around here.

That's one of the reasons that the principal selection decision is so critical. Principals decide almost everything, even the things that the District is supposed to decide.
Eric B said…
Adding on to Maureen's comment, some schools may have more or less lenient waiver requirements. If I recall correctly, my daughter also said that she could likely get a PE waiver if she took a full academic courseload even without the IB diploma. That relies on two unreliable sources (my memory and my daughter's interpretation of what the counselor said), so take it with a grain of salt.

Also, it may be a recommendation to ensure that students get all of their distribution (PE, CTE, etc.) out of the way in a timely manner. I've definitely seen suggestions from counselors become rules in students' or parents' minds.

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