Oversight Work Session - Advanced Learning

Board Policy 1010, Board Oversight of Management, requires the School Board to conduct oversight work sessions. Among these, they are required to review Highly Capable Services at least once every three years. The last time they did an oversight meeting for advanced learning was about three years ago, on April 24, 2013, so it is time for another.

The oversight meeting was scheduled for yesterday but it was deferred. That's fine.

The District has cultivated a high degree of skepticism around these programs and has consistently failed to meet commitments made to this community. The common belief is that HCC has been diffused, that Spectrum has been dismantled, and that ALOs never really existed in the first place. The District has not been able to effectively disprove those beliefs and has, in fact, confirmed them to a disturbing degree.

Here are some questions that the Board can ask when they finally get the opportunity. You may want to suggest some questions as well.
  1. Where is the program evaluation that was promised at the first Management Oversight meeting of this department on April 24, 2013? When the Board last reviewed Advanced Learning three years ago, one of the identified weaknesses was the absence of a program evaluation. A program evaluation was promised at that meeting but never delivered. It has been three years. Where is it? What is the timeline for its delivery?
  2. How can the advanced learning program manager's performance be reviewed in the absence of a program evaluation? Isn't the quality and efficacy of the programs the primary measure of the program manager's performance?
  3. When families ask about the nature of Advanced Learning programs in their child's school they are told that the programs are described in the schools' CSIP. This isn't true. Almost none of the schools that claim to offer an advanced learning program or service have a description of that program or service in the CSIP. Where can families find a documented description of the Advanced Learning program in their child's school? Written descriptions of advanced learning programs have been promised for over a decade. Why aren't they available? What is the obstacle to keeping this promise? When will they be available?
  4. While it is good that the District staff have promised to include descriptions of advanced learning programs in the CSIPs, this promise has been made and unfulfilled for over a decade. Why will it be different this time? Should the Board withhold approval of CSIPs that fail to include this element?
  5. The Superintendent's Procedure SP2190 makes reference to the HC curriculum. A written, taught, and tested curriculum was promised in January 2009 when middle school APP was first split. Where is the written curriculum? It was supposed to be in place by September 2009, so it is six years overdue. What is the timeline for delivering it?
  6. At the time of the split the community was also promised that the District would provide ample opportunity for collaboration among the HCC sites. Please provide a report of the meeting times and attendance when teachers from various HCC sites have been brought together to collaborate since the split in September 2010.
  7. The Superintendent's Procedure SP2190 makes reference to an advanced curriculum in reading and mathematics for Spectrum and Advanced Learning Opportunities. Where are those curricula written down? What guidance are teachers given when they are made responsible for delivering these advanced curricula?
  8. What effort is made to confirm that the teachers are delivering the advanced curricula required by the policy and procedure?
  9. What is Spectrum? It is not described in the Superintendent's Procedure SP3190. What is it? How is it different from the instruction that a child would otherwise receive? What are the hallmarks of a Spectrum curriculum? How can a student's family know that their child is getting a Spectrum curriculum? To be candid, there are a number of families who are telling us that although their child has been identified as an Advanced Learner and is enrolled in a Spectrum program or ALO, they cannot distinguish any difference between the instruction provided to their child and the instruction provided to all of the other children who share the general education classroom. Is there a difference? What tool can you offer them to make the distinction? What tool do you use to confirm that schools are providing the advanced learning program that they claim to be providing? Who in the District is responsible for confirming the existence of advanced learning programs and assuring their quality and efficacy?
  10. When the New Assignment Plan was adopted in 2003, the District committed to preserving space in schools for existing programs. When right-sizing the attendance area for a Spectrum elementary school, how many seats in the school are set aside for Spectrum-eligible students from outside the school's attendance area?
  11. How many Spectrum-eligible elementary students were denied access to a program due to capacity issues? If elementary students who do not live in the attendance area of the designated Spectrum school for their middle school service area cannot access Spectrum, doesn't that constitute inequitable access? What is being done to address this inequity? How are these students' need for an advanced curricula met at their neighborhood schools?
  12. What evidence do we have that neighborhood schools without advanced learning programs are meeting the academic needs of advanced learners?
  13. If the neighborhood school can address the needs of the advanced learners so easily and without any special program in place, why bother to have Spectrum or Advanced Learning Opportunities? Isn't Spectrum or an ALO supposed to represent something more than what a school would otherwise do to support the academic needs of advanced learners?
  14. What evidence do we have that schools with advanced learning programs are meeting the academic needs of advanced learners?
  15. In fact, what evidence do we have that advanced learning programs even exist?
  16. The Superintendent's Procedure SP2190 says that for Spectrum, classes can be self-contained or students can be grouped within classrooms. How is the grouping of students within classrooms done? Are the students evenly distributed across the classrooms or are they clustered in some of the classrooms? How do we know how the Spectrum-eligible students are distributed in these schools? What research supports the various distribution methods used?
  17. What is the nature and extent of the community and family engagement for Spectrum and Advanced Learning Opportunities? There is no reference to it in the procedure. Is there any effort at all to communicate and solicit input from families with children enrolled in these programs? Compare this effort to the effort to communicate and solicit input from HCC families. Is this equitable?


Anonymous said…
I would add that if there is a defined program how is it that the program is different at individual buildings? HC services are different at HIMS vs WMS vs JAMS. Cascadia has a different math curriculum than HC at TM. How is that possible if they are teaching the same subset of kids with the best practices? I know the HIMS kids were making it to GHS less ready in history (and math) so that they had to decelerate the WMS kids.

Anonymous said…
The school board has to sign off on our annual Highly Capable Program Annual Plan, which is required in order to get that state funding. The current year's plan includes new evaluation items, but it's unclear if the district is following through on actually doing these. I have been unable to get any details on these stated evaluation efforts from either the AL dept or the Research, Evaluation and Assessment dept.

The stated evaluation plan includes the following:

"Academic Goals for HCP students will be established in September and reviewed in December and April. Data will be analyzed in June to evaluate the effectiveness of the HCP."
Have these goals been established, and if so, what are they?
Are preliminary findings available re: the December review?
What indicators outcome measures will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the HC program?
Will they be collecting basic demographic data (e.g., school and grade) so they can also do comparison across HC sites or elem vs. middle?

Surveys--of students, parents, teachers and administrators.
What type of information are they hoping to capture through these surveys?
Are these new surveys? New questions to be added to other surveys? New interpretation of existing questions?
What's the timeline for these surveys?
Will there be an opportunity for stakeholders to provide feedback on survey drafts, as occurred with the family survey? Will they be pilot testing the surveys?

If these things are not happening as we said they would, will the school board once again just sign off on next year's application this April?

Charlie Mas said…
Oh yes. Let's review the Highly Capable Plan that was submitted to OSPI.

Here's what I found:
"District has defined goals for the highly capable program and works toward meeting those goals"
Really? What goals does the District have for the Highly Capable program? I'm not aware of any stated goals. The plan claims that:
"HCP Goals/Objectives are included in Policy and Procedures, and are periodically reviewed."

"Academic Goals for HCP students will be established in September and reviewed in December and April. Data will be analyzed in June to evaluate the effectiveness of the HCP."
Really? What goals? What review was done in December?

The HCP says these are the methods and activities that the district will use to measure how well the HCP met its program goals, the academic achievement of the highly capable students and how well the HCP addressed the needs and capabilities of highly capable students:
AP Tests
Classroom-based assessments
District assessments
IB Tests
State assessments
Surveys of Administrators, Parents, students, and teachers

That's the complete list. Which one of these tells them how well the HCP addressed teh needs and capabilities of highly capable students?

The Board needs to ask about this.
Anonymous said…
With the director of HCC out on medical leave* does anyone really expect any real work to be done here? Either he'll return and be given time to catch up or he won't return and the new person will need time to catch up. This will be explained to the state and the state will nod. Best to save this thread and repost a year from now.


*The director on medical leave and his fill in appear to be decent people trying their best. I place the lack of any cohesive program at Tolley and Heath's feet. If they could care less about the program I do not know how. Commitment to bringing kids up to standard does not mean offering less than zero to kids who want or need more than standard.
Anonymous said…
Second the * comment. Expect no improvements without a change in T&L.

-tired parent
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
seattle citizen said…
Reposting for Anonymous 11:01 as their post will likely be deleted - Commenters MUST pick a moniker to sign off with at bottom of comment if posting anonymously (without a Google screen name of some sort.)


@ District Watcher,

Better to bring this up sooner rather than wait a year. You're right that the district may get a pass from the state this year, but our school board directors should not also just let it go. They need to make sure things are in place for implementation, and they should refuse to approve next year's HC plan until they are confident this won't happen again. Next year's plan will likely be presented to the board for approval in just 5 or 6 months. Past boards may have been content to just sign off without asking any questions, but I get the feeling the current board is a bit more conscientious. Will they really sign off on something if they know if promises we'll do things we really have no intention of doing? Are there legal repercussions for them as individuals if they do?
Charlie Mas said…
I think it is pretty clear that the leadership in Teaching and Learning believe that MTSS will meet the needs of advanced learners so no Spectrum or ALO is necessary. Consequently they are perfectly sanguine about eliminating it, which they are doing with full awareness, grim intent, and surprising urgency. It is one the few things that excites their passions.

I would agree with them and fully support their plan except for just one thing: the differentiation, the acceleration, and the deeper learning that students working beyond Standards are supposed to get through MTSS doesn't actually happen. So it's a perfect solution except for the teeny, tiny problem that it is completely unreal.

The differentiated instruction that is supposed to come as a result of MTSS doesn't happen for all of the perfectly excellent reasons that differentiated instruction didn't happen before the classroom was wrapped in the narrative of MTSS. Let's remember that MTSS is really nothing more than the codification of what teachers should have been doing all along and would have been doing all along if they had the time and resources to do it. Giving the concept a fancy name doesn't help deliver the time and resources necessary to implement it or make it any easier to get teachers to teach a uniform curriculum.

That's why we are currently in the fourth year of a three-year implementation plan with six years to go. The District simply can't overcome the longstanding obstacles - no matter what they call the process (RtI, MTSS, Holiday on Ice, etc.). There will be no real progress until teachers get the time and resources necessary to make it happen and the District can coerce the teachers to actually do it. Until then, MTSS will exist only in PowerPoints, not in classrooms.

For the District to move forward with the dismantling of Spectrum in anticipation of the arrival of MTSS would be a tragic error because MTSS simply isn't coming. It is possible that, after a couple more years of failure the District will simply declare victory, claim that MTSS has been implemented, and then never talk about it again. You know, just like they did with Standards-based Education or the new Special Education structure. Actually, now that I think about it, Standards-based Education was an early version of MTSS.

Before there were bridges across Lake Washington there was a ferry service. Sure, bridges are better, but the ferry service continued until the bridges were built. It didn't stop when the plans for the bridges were announced. The Department of Transportation didn't direct cars onto the bridges before they were finished. That would be crazy, right? So, just as cars weren't shifted from the ferry service to the bridges until the bridges were done, let's not dismantle Spectrum and ALOs in favor of MTSS until MTSS is actually up and running. Is that too much to ask?
Anonymous said…
It will continue to be impossible to determine whether any Advanced Learning program in the district is succeeding, as long as the district continues to have no statement of anything that it is trying to accomplish through these programs. The closest thing there is to a "goal" is the occasional statement that the programs will "provide services", without identifying what services are to be provided to which students and toward what purpose.

Students in Advanced Learning programs (just as in general education) may be fortunate to have some excellent teachers and benefit greatly, but the operative word is *fortunate*, as the benefit comes from the particular teachers and not from the program.

Anonymous said…
Dear 3inAPP- You are mistaken with this comment which is a rumor: "I know the HIMS kids were making it to GHS less ready in history (and math) so that they had to decelerate the WMS kids." I did research and asked the history chair why the Garfield world history course sequence changed. Was it due to the rumor you mentioned "because HIMS kids were less ready than those from WMS?
He has this reply:
Is Stephan Martin and the Gifted Office aware of these rumors? I know they were there simmering a bit at the time of the decision. That came mostly from the administration at Hamilton. I had no idea that was still floating around two plus years later. No, any differences between the Hamilton and WMS programs were not a part of our decision making and to be honest never discussed. The issue was driven by several factors in order below.

1)The curriculum change that was made seven or eight years ago that had the HCC students taking the foundations portion of the AP-WH curriculum, was eliminated. That was the whole justification for the acceleration. Without that specific class and its curriculum, the HCC students need to take that course as Freshmen here.

2) We are certified by the College Board to teach a specific curriculum. That comes via their audit system where they look at the scope and sequence we teach. They do this by approving a specific course syllabus. With no Foundations class, we would be out of compliance with the College Board.

3) The move had our students out of alignment. While taking AP-WH as freshmen they were in general Freshmen Lit. Then as sophomores in AP-US History, they were taking World Lit To highlight that challenge, our AP-WH classes are just covering WW I right now and in the World Lit class the students are reading “All Quiet on the Western Front”. In my AP-US class we just covered the Progressive Era and will quickly be in the Harlem Renaissance. Our AP-LA juniors are now in the Progressive era and will quickly be reading Langston Hughes poetry. It is a great synthesis that was not there under the old model.

4) The old, old model which is now the new model worked. For almost 30 years the model was students in the APP-HCC track to come into Garfield and take WH-H as freshmen, then AP-European History. The district then changed the curriculum at the MS to add the Foundations class, jettisoned the European course here and added AP-WH. The system we now have, the original one for 30 years worked great and there really was no good reason to change it.

5) Finally, our AP World History teachers had concerns per the maturity level of the students in the class. While many of the HCC kids are brilliant and hard workers, they are still 14-15 year old kids who need some maturing. I saw that same challenge when I had sophomores in my AP-US class which traditionally has 16-17 year olds and not 15-16 year olds.

Feel free to share. Sorry this sort of middle school gossip is happening with adults and curriculum. Now concerned the same is happening with folks between Ingraham and Garfield. One more reminder how hard it is to quash a rumor mill. All these kids are getting a great education and best of all its free. I’m passionate and adamant that the education and life experiences they are learning is far better than one could receive at our top local private schools.

Take care

Richard Truax

Garfield High School

Social Studies Department Chair

Lynn said…
Mr. Truax seems to be confused. There is no prerequisite (or foundations course) for AP World History. The College Board states that There are no prerequisites for AP World History, although students should be able to read a college-level textbook and write grammatically correct, complete sentences.

Every HCC student is well prepared to take AP World in the 9th grade.


Anonymous said…
Mr. Truax seems also to not know that Garfield staff have repeated the rumor re: differing levels of preparedness between WMS and HIMS students. I first heard it from a GHS staff member, in a public meeting. But I love how he blames it on gossiping middle school parents.


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