Science Adoption Updates

 Update: here's the agenda for next week's Curriculum&Instruction committee meeting.  I will request the accompanying materials but someone who did see them said there are 800 pages. I have never seen anything like this before.

end of update.

This post is written by former Board President Sue Peters as a letter to the Board because of pushback of her analysis about outcomes using Amplify Science.  This is a lengthy post but worth reading if you care about this issue.
Dear Directors,

Thank you for considering the information I have shared with you about the science curriculum adoption process, including concerns about the efficacy of AmplifyScience and evidence of bias in favor of this one product over others. In response to MaryMargaret Welch’s April 3, 2019 letter to the Board challenging the findings of my data analysis, please consider these corrections to Ms. Welch’s claims along with further observations.

(Attached please find a copy of this letter in PDF form, which might be easier to read, as well as a copy of the science waiver applications submitted by SPS schools in 2017.)

First, please know that the analysis I provided was created by a professional data analyst who compiled the data set and aggregated the results, with my assistance. Our sources were OSPI and the district’s own curriculum waiver applications from SPS schools that used AmplifyScience rather than existing district materials.

Secondly, since curriculum adoptions are one of the most impactful and long-lasting decisions the Board can make, as I’m sure you know, they must be grounded in data, per policy and common sense. So I believe whatever information is available should be shared with the Board and inform the Board’s decision.

To that end, it is my sincere goal to help the Board make an informed decision by providing information, as a longtime SPS parent myself and as a former director who empathizes with the Board on the challenges of such decisions.

Summary of inferences from the PowerPoint data

In sum, the information I have provided shows that, based on available data, the SPS schools using Amplify Science fared more poorly on the new Next Generation State Standards science test than the SPS schools not using Amplify Science.

Between the two science tests taken by SPS 8th graders in 2017 and 2018 (MSP and WCAS), pass rates fell across the board in SPS schools (with the exception of some HCC schools), but where they fell the most overall were in the schools using Amplify Science.

Also, the students whose pass rates declined the most were low-income students using Amplify Science.

Ms. Welch and other staff have stated that AmplifyScience curricular materials are better aligned to the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and would therefore better prepare students for the standards as demonstrated on the NGSS assessment, first administered in 2018. That was their whole rationale for using mass waivers in 2017 to deploy AmplifyScience in as many as 19 schools. But, quite simply, the data does not support that claim. And there is no evidence that AmplifyScience closes the achievement gap.

Validity of the data and analysis

Ms. Welch claims that the basis for my analysis was flawed, and goes to great lengths to question the validity of the data and my methods, indicating she consulted with SPS and OSPI staff for their opinions. To this I offer the following counterpoints:

1. In the analysis, we clearly acknowledge the limitations in the data, and address them in our notes. I acknowledge two different tests were used. But we are not comparing the two tests to each other – or “apples to oranges” – as Ms. Welch would lead you to believe.
We are simply comparing how well each school was able to pass the state standardized test, whatever form it took, from one year to the next, based on OPSI reported pass rates. This was a comparison of the schools to themselves – apples to apples, if you will. We also acknowledge that pass rates typically drop whenever a new test is administered. Indeed that is what happened across the district in SPS in 2018 with the new NGSS aligned science test (except in HCC schools). And, of course, it is always better and more accurate to have multiple data points and control groups.

2. But what I used was the only data available. And there are valid comparisons and inferences that can still be made from this data.

3. The most salient fact the Board should know, and the great irony of Ms. Welch’s objection to my analysis, is that it uses the exact same measures and methodology that SPS staff themselves said they would use to measure the efficacy of AmplifyScience. This is stated in the approved waiver application documents (both below and attached), as you can see for yourselves:
“Data and test score to be used in evaluation:

Data generated from the Washington State Science Learning Standards Next Generation Science assessment for grade 8 to begin Spring 2018. Comparisons will be made between schools using the Amplify Science online platform compared to schools using our current kit based program.

Other Pertinent Data Collection: A robust evaluation system will be implemented to assess the effectiveness of this web-based program that will include, but not be limited to, pre and post students and teacher attitudinal surveys. The SPS Science Dept. will also conduct focus group interviews. The University of Washington School of Education will serve as our partners in this data collection.” 
My analysis follows the framework described. So why is Ms. Welch now questioning the validity of the very measures that she and staff promised to use themselves? It is irrational.

If such comparisons are indeed “apples to oranges” and “inappropriate,” then please ask Ms. Welch why such measurements were acceptable for every school that asked for waivers to use Amplify to fulfill waiver requirements.

And if my method and data are inaccurate, why did Ms. Welch choose to use them to make her own point and graph about the three middle schools she (incorrectly) claimed were miscategorized in our analysis? Her reasoning is inconsistent.

The fact is, comparing an individual school’s pass rates from one year to the next with all variables acknowledged is valid. Comparing trends across the district is also valid. And despite Ms. Welch’s intimations and oversimplifications of the demographics of the north and south ends of the district, these facts hold true even when you disaggregate by income and race. For example, even low-income students in the north-end Eckstein Middle School who were not using Amplify passed the new NGSS rate at a higher rate than low-income students in south-end Mercer Middle School who did use Amplify.

Even in lateral comparisons — apples to apples, if you will—north-end schools not using Amplify fared better than north-end schools that are using Amplify. The same is true for south-end schools.
Conclusion: The numbers tell a story that the Board needs to hear

Nothing Ms. Welch or R&E staff have said changes the fact that SPS schools that used AmplifyScience in 2017-18 saw a greater drop in their pass rates on the new NGSS test (MCAS) in 2018 compared to their pass rates on the previous MSP science test, than schools that did not use AmplifyScience. And the students that fared the worst were low-income students using AmplifyScience.

So there is no evidence that AmplifyScience closes the achievement gap.




Further points and corrections:
Ms. Welch claims that I “should have looked at the waivers more carefully.” Please rest assured that I did. That was my very reason for making a public records request for them.

Contrary to Ms. Welch’s claims that three middle schools in our analysis were misclassified and did not use Amplify for 8th grade, the waiver applications show Hazel Wolf and Madison Middle School did in fact use Amplify for 8th grade. Only Blaine did not.

Ms. Welch claims that three schools were erroneously included in the Amplify group in our analysis, and that significantly changes the results. That is incorrect. A review of the waiver applications shows that, while that is true for Catharine Blaine, which only used Amplify in 6th and 7th grades (an oversight I acknowledge), Ms. Welch is incorrect about Hazel Wolf and Madison. Both their waivers clearly state they will use Amplify for 6-8 grade. (See attached)

We have subsequently re-run the results, moving Blaine to the non-Amplify group. This changes the group pass rate in 2017 to 2018 from -7% to -8% -- a statistically insignificant difference. Meanwhile, the overall decline in pass rate among schools remains unchanged, at -12% for those schools not using Amplify and -18% for schools that used Amplify, when HCC (outlier) schools are removed from the equation.

In other words, even when we move Blaine to the non-Amplify category, the story remains the same.

Mercer Middle School has been using Amplify since 2016 – not just “7 months” as Ms. Welch claimed. Its students had two years of Amplify instruction in preparation for the new NGSS test – yet some of the biggest declines in pass rates.
Contrary to Ms. Welch’s claims that all the Amplify schools had only been using the materials for 7 months, Mercer Middle School, the first, and one of the largest schools in the AmplifyScience group, and thus the best case study, has in fact been using those materials and instruction since 2016, as the waiver applications and district purchase records attest. That means the Mercer 8th graders who took the new NGSS test in 2018 had been using AmplifyScience for two years – 7th and 8th grade.

The results? Mercer saw one of the largest drops in test score pass rates from the old test to the new NGSS test – despite having used the allegedly NGSS aligned AmplifyScience materials for longer than any other school.

Mercer also saw one of the largest drops in pass rates in the district for low-income students. This is alarming, especially if the District is committed to closing gaps and addressing inequities.

Ms. Welch calls for cohort study – look to Mercer.

Ms. Welch criticizes my analysis for not following a cohort of students from one year to the next. That data simply is not available -- except for Mercer, the only school that has a cohort of students who used AmplifyScience for two years before taking the NGSS test in 2018. The results? Again, Mercer’s students saw some of the biggest drops in pass rates in the district.

Where is Ms. Welch’s counterpoint data that refutes our findings?

Throughout her refutation of our data, Ms. Welch fails to provide the Board with data to counter our findings. Please request that information. If it does not exist, or does not make a clear case for AmplifyScience, how can the Board approve a recommendation for this product? Policy prohibits it.

Where is the “robust evaluation” data?

The waivers also claim that not only will the schools provide a comparison between Amplify and non-Amplify schools on the 2018 NGSS test, they would also ensure: “robust evaluation system will be implemented to assess the effectiveness of this web-based program that will include, but not be limited to, pre and post students and teacher attitudinal surveys. The SPS Science Dept. will also conduct focus group interviews.”

Please ask Ms. Welch and Drs. Kinoshita and Anderson for the data from the promised “robust evaluation system.” Was this system implemented?
The Board is being asked to take a leap of faith: without supporting data, a long-term investment in AmplifyScience would be a risky, fiscally and academically irresponsible choice for SPS students.

In her letter, Ms. Welch essentially asks the Board to take a leap of faith. She asks you to simply trust her and R&E staff who promise to evaluate the effectiveness of AmplifyScience after you adopt it. That is backwards. Common sense and policy mandate that facts and data must precede and inform the adoption committee recommendation and Board vote, not come afterward.

Ms. Welch said: “R&E has made a commitment to partner with Science to evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of new instructional materials. Working with Research and Evaluation is a planned part of the science adoption. This is how we demonstrate an accountability to our public for entrusting us with new instructional resources.”

These promises of accountability are all in the future. It would be fiscally and academically irresponsible for the Board to accept such terms. It would also violate board policy which mandates data-based decisions to drive adoption decisions.

Staff is asking the Board to commit many years, many dollars and the education of countless SPS students to a curricular product they had abundant opportunity to test, but for which they are providing you no proof of efficacy. The data that is available, and which staff themselves said they would use, Ms. Welch and staff are now attempting to discredit. But this data is informative and does not support the use of AmplifyScience.
Other observations from the waivers:

Ms. Welch invited me to scrutinize the waiver documents more closely. I have, along with others in the community, and what we have found is very troubling -- beginning with the fact the Board was not informed of the waivers and “pilot” until Nov. 2017, seven months after (most all of) the waiver applications were submitted and the effort was already underway.

Within the applications, irregularities emerge: A number of schools failed to provide any evidence that the school decided as a community to seek waivers. In multiple cases there is evidence this was a top-down decision made by a few that did not come from the community. That is in violation of waiver policy (2020). One school, for example, said it would inform the community of the school administration decision sometime in the fall during the school barbeque with a flier in multiple languages – five months or so after the fact and with no option for input. That is not community engagement. Two schools submitted waivers after the May 1 due date, rendering them void. One was as late as Sept. 2017. Some schools did not submit required signatures, invalidating them. Some are simply incomplete. The waiver applications are 90 percent identical, demonstrating that they were not an organic school-based decision, as the waiver policy intended, but an orchestrated centralized effort.
Why does all of this matter?

This matters because our students and teachers deserve the very best curricular materials, and which have been carefully vetted and evaluated, based on facts, not bias, and whose recommendation was reached in full compliance with district policy, law and utmost integrity.

How can the Board or the greater SPS community have confidence in this process given the lack of data and the shifting explanations from staff? On the surface it appears that some members of staff decided back in 2016 to invest and commit to one untested product, AmplifyScience, orchestrated a mass use of waivers and called it a “pilot,” but failed to follow a scientific testing method that a true pilot would prescribe.

And despite the absence of convincing data, staff are now advocating to the Board for what appears to be a preordained outcome, and to commit to a longterm contract with this same vendor. Yet the existing data suggests that this product does not serve our students well, especially low-income students -- those who are “furthest from educational justice.” Sincerely,

Recommendations and Board decisions must be based on facts and data and a process conducted with objectivity and integrity. There is troubling evidence that all of these factors are lacking from this science curriculum adoption process.

Thank you again for your consideration of all the facts. Our children are depending on you to make the right decisions, with full confidence in the processes that led to them.

Sue Peters
SPS parent since 2005 

SPS Board Director 2013-17

 End of letter

I am still investigating a possible source for the Amplify materials.  I know the head of Science, Mary Margaret Welch, gave her impassioned explanation to the Board at the last Work Session on this topic but I found it all a little less-than-believable.  I now have another lead and am following it; it could explain a lot.

Here's a link to all the science waivers - 20 in all which is quite unusual.  To note in the Board policy 2020 on Waivers:  taking all relevant district and state assessments, and must, on average of the three-year waiver period, meet or exceed the gains demonstrated by peer schools that are using the district adoptioned matierals for all segments of their population in order to continue using the alternative basic instructional materials.  So how come there is pushback in comparing those outcomes?

There are some real oddities in there like:

- How come the majority of them have the same template language? 
- There's these notations:
  • Student subscriptions for the online Amplify Science platform and all correspoinding materials required for implementation will be provided by the District Science budget for kit-based instructional materials.  What? The district paid for the subscriptions?
  • Laptop computers required for the implementation of these instructional materials will be provided through a mini-grant offering 1 laptop for every 2 students.  Again, what? Who gave this "mini-grant?"  Are they saying that for science in these schools, they have 1 laptop for every 2 students?  That's seems like a fairly big deal.
  • However, there is also this from Catherine Blaine K-8's application: All corresponding materials required for implementation will be paid for by the PTSA.  Cascadia's appliation doesn't mention computers at all.  Neither does Decatur's.
  • Cedar Park's application does not mention computers and has this notation: Cedar Park staff have not been hired at the time of this waiver application.  So this was purely a principal decision.
  • A robust evaluation system will be implemented to assess the effectiveness of this web-based program that will include, but not be limited to, pre-and-post student and teacher attitudinal surveys.  The SPS Science Department will also conduct focus group interviews.  The University of Washington School of Education will serve as our partners in this data collection.  Well, I'll certain give Ms. Welch's department a ring for this data.
  • The challenge presented by the Amplify Science program that it (sic) required a one-to-one laptop program.  However, after some significant deliberations with the developers of Amplify Science, we have the opportunity to field test a "tech-light" version in 2-017-2018. Parnertings with DoTS will allow us an opportunity to implement this web-based platform in a segment of our middle schools and assess its effectiveness.  So what does this mean if SPS adopts Amplify?
  • The "community involvement" varied wildly from none to having PTSAs endorse it.
Also to note:

- There were only 4 pilot teachers utilized in the process of piloting and vetting the curriculum for the entire district. Out of those 4 pilot teachers, 3 were all at previous Amplify schools.

- These pilot teachers were likely able to pick which units to compare for each company and may have picked the strongest ones from Amplify - based on their experience with those units. 

- One of the teachers, plus Mary Margaret Welch, has been quoted in Amplify white papers and advertising.  So you have the head of Science of a district plus a teacher who is making decisions for the district as a whole both being quoted by a company up for a science adoption.

- I am told that Amplify's structure lacks flexibility for any kind of modification.

Schedule for final adoption:

April 23 - Curriculum & Instruction Meeting final review (Jill Geary is the Chair, with Rick Burke and Scott Pinkham as members)

May 1 - To Board for Introduction

May 7 - Some kind of meeting with middle and high school principals

May 15 - To Board for Action (I note that the dateline from the Science Department says (hopefully) "approval." That is not a given.)


Anonymous said…
I am so profoundly grateful for your thoughtful, thorough, excellent research that shows how (1) how suspect the process was (possibly state ethics laws may have been contravened) and (2) how grossly inadequate the proposed Amplify textual materials are.

It is shocking how these educators have so little regard for either our kids or for education. They are unaccountable, except for you and your brilliant mind and caring heart.

I hope the Boards calls (1) you to testify and (2) calls the prosecutor to investigate.

You would make a great Super for Seattle with your relentless pursuit of truth, transparency, and most importantly, high standards for all of our students.

And by the way, as horrendous as Amplify is (and it is a disaster- one of our kids is stuck in the awful pilot for 2 years!!! Where’s the educational justice in that?!?) Carbon Time is a thousand times worse! If that is deployed, we will take an on line course - we absolutely will NOT subject the same kid to that garbage).

Sue fan
Anonymous said…
The Curriculum & Instruction Committee will also be addressing Policy 2024 next week, and changes they hope to make that will reduce a student’s ability to receive credit for online classes. Your student may not be able to avoid the Carbon Time curriculum.

Fairmount Parent
Wildcat said…
Carbon Time is terrible. I too wonder how my kids make up the lost learning due to being subjects of these curriculum pilots.
Anonymous said…
This is another major reason BHS & RHS HCC families are avoiding Lincoln! The Sci Dept at LHS is seeded with Welch-ites - their course content is going to be the worst. In-the-know vet families understand this & therefore are avoiding LHS. After all, the principal/school was ‘mentored’ by Jill Hudson. Enough said. If your priority is rigor, Amplify and Carbon Time are your kryptonite. Hawkers of this tripe are to be avoided/side stepped. Some high schools dedicated to actual rigor are flying below the radar to avoid.

parent said…
Thank you very much Sue Peters!
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much, Sue, for refusing to play dead on this critically important issue and for daylighting both the data and the process in this proposed end-run adoption.

Particularly at a time when SPS is in budget turmoil (some self inflicted via collective bargaining with the union, some state inflicted) this adoption is unsound. And for a district that just passed an entire strategic plan around closing the opportunity gap and improving education for "those farthest from educational justice," adopting a curricula that CLEARLY DOES NOT SERVE LOW INCOME AND STUDENTS OF COLOR is a moral and fiscal abomination.

Wondering why we're not seeing hew and cry from the SEA's group of social justice educators (SEE) on this issue.

Concerned parent
NE Parent said…
I have two perspectives on amplify.

First our son is a middle school student in HCC at Jane Addams. They use amplify science. He says he likes it. But I believe this misleading. My impression is the teacher uses amplify where the lessons make sense, and otherwise uses the prior curriculum. Providing new supplemental material that can be used when they make sense, does seem like it could raise the test scores, which seems like what Sue Peters has mentioned at HCC schools.

My second data point is a teacher at a different middle School that has been using amplify science. Three science teachers there are all absolutely hate amplify.

The primary complaint I hear from the teachers is that science must be Hands-On. And that sitting in front of a computer doing science is a huge turn off for the students. The teachers complain this is particularly an issue for students that are less academically engaged to begin with. the teachers at this school are very concerned that students are being turned off from an interest in science long-term.

Anonymous said…
It's now known that Amplify paid SPS to pilot (field-test) its new Curriculum in 2017-2019. Amplify called the version that SPS got: "Tech-Light". How many parents were told that their kids were getting a field-test version of Amplify? A project paid for by Amplify. Whatever District Staff now call the Amplify project, the Board never approved it. The Board was probably never informed by Mary Margaret Welch that Amplify was paying for its own Curriculum to be implemented (field-tested) in SPS. Note: SPS has been referred to as a "Case Study" in recent Amplify marketing materials. Please email the Board and inform them of how you were notified (or not informed) of how Amplify was being imposed on your kids. Please remember that District Staff, as well as the Superintendent, refer to us parents, teachers, and taxpayers, who post on this Blog, as "noise".

Anonymous said…
Bravo Sue! And bravo Melissa!
Your work is much appreciated!

-Boeing scientist
Anonymous said…
Opt Out Now.

NE Parent,

Thank you for sharing the fact that three Science teachers in a SPS Middle School hate using Amplify (!). Encourage these teachers to talk to an open-minded Board Member about opting out of Amplify for 2019-2020. Waiver decisions are Board decision. Waiver requests from Building-Leadership-Teams are supposed to go directly to the Board. Check out the SEA Contract. Suggest that these teachers ask for a Waiver, from the Waiver that was imposed on their school, to pilot Amplify. High Schools should also ask to Opt Out of CarbonTime, if teachers, parents, and students decide they want out of this imposed Curriculum. Vote for good Science Educational Materials from within your Building-Leadership-Team. The Board wants the best outcomes for each school. They need to hear that a one-size Curriculum, dictated from above, does not fit all.

Opt Out
Anonymous said…
I was also personally involved in an analysis that showed that Amplify Science had small effects for students in general but that if the socio-economic status of students was taken into account, the effect was actually negative. This can be calculated using the OSPI scores and demographic data and a list of the schools that used Amplify fairly easily. This data is available to you all. Someone just need to do the math. Compare the results from the Amplify schools to the rest and control for as much as is provided by OSPI, including scores from last year. Despite the fact that there was a small positive result in general (which hey, maybe was just different SES, because it disappears when that is added), there is a reason that the public has not seen this result. My guess is that involves the creators of the curriculum, specifically JB at lawrence hall of science, and Amplify's inability to stand up to them given their continued indebtedness. How has that company been a "start up" for so long? Ed reports is one thing. Real data is another.
Anonymous said…
Earth to Amplify bloggers, come in please, you’re off course.

Uh. Nobody cares about test results. Let me back pedal. The alien race from planet TestVendor care deeply about test results. You’re in an intergalactic wormhole to nowhere. On the one hand you blog endlessly about how terrible tests are, how you should opt out wherever possible for civil rights and Apple pie, how tests interfere with real learning. But now you’re getting all teary eyed, waving the flag of righteousness and test results. You folks can’t have it both ways. You can’t scream about test worthlessness, especially for the smartest of the smart and for the achievement gappers. And then use those same results to prove something.

Let’s consider something else. When new standards are adopted and new tests are written, students no longer have the right testing armor. They’ve been practicing with the wrong test prep! The schools spend weeks on pure test prepping. When they don’t know which video game they will see (Eg the test) they aren’t prepared. It has nothing to do with science curricula. Repeat. Test scores have nothing to do with curricula or student learning. They have everything to do with parental income. Over time, even the poor kids and schools wise up. They start to learn the test and how to do it. Then we celebrate! The gap is closing. Planet TestVendor to the rescue! A new standard, with new tests and new and new curriculum are required to rightfully restore the achievement gap. The drama creates business. When we get new standards and new tests, of course poor kids will do worse. That was the whole point! It has nothing to do with Amplify.

To kill the Amplify beast, you will need something better. That beast is definitely worth killing. Science matters. Suep’s impassioned treatise on test score data was great, but sadly irrelevant. Better to stick to arguments that actually matter. Equity is a nonstarter, especially when white people are using it. Illegal use of funds. If true, that’s a deadly and actionable case. Surely there’s a lawyer out there willing to file for a cease and desist order. Sole sourcing with no competitive bidding. Another great point to use. Is there a competitor willing to take up that case? End run around the board and oversight. When will the board ever require accountability? Collusion between Welch and Amplify creators, with possible future payoffs. That is extremely meaningful. Unfortunately, here on Earth we’ve got people getting away with rampant collusion everywhere we look.


Anonymous said…
Amplify is an effective way to end any interest a student might have in science. My 6th grader at Hamilton is quickly losing interest in her science class while the STEM class is great as it's hand on and not computer based.

Amplify is not equitable as the gen ed students end up with 3 years wasted in middle school science looking at computer simulations rather than hands on science which leads to excitement and interest in science.

Anonymous said…
Helen, you are absolutely right. My student at WMS is just amazed at all the repetition going on in the Amplify curriculum. It is a total bore and also replicates a lot of what was presented in --true, yes, true-- elementary school. A whole generation of students turned off and uninspired.

Anonymous said…
Don’t be discouraged by Amplify execs who claim to know how the world works because their friends have worked in the White House. If the data didn’t matter, nobody would care if it was pursued. Brooklyn is hardly Earth and you don’t scare anyone.

So Earthling, a few thoughts.

1) I am not against testing. I'm against overtesting and tests that are biased. There's that.
2) I don't think Sue or anyone else holding up these test results is being unfair. It's the DISTRICT who said they would use these results to show how Amplify does and holding them to those results is fair.
3) I am working on other issues with Amplify and I think the other candidates for grades 6-8 are aware of these issues. That could be a problem for the district if they pick Amplify and then TCI and/or HMH decide that the RFP process was not fair.
4) As well, I'm getting a lot of pushback from a simple question about another possible way that SPS got those Amplify materials for free. It's an odd thing when you can't get multiple entities to answer a simple question. I'll let you know when I do get a solid answer (I have put in a FOIA).

One issue that is glaring to me is this idea that Amplify is supposed to be used with 1-1 computers for students. How can the district afford computers for every middle-schooler? As someone on ITAC, the discussion has been around starting with high school first. Hmmm.
Anonymous said…
Board Decisions on Amplify Science

The Curriculum and Instruction Committee have a difficult decision to make next Tuesday. Pro-Amplify and Anti-Amplify voices are each calling for a decision to be made. A decision to advance Amplify for adoption. Or, to reject Amplify as a District-wide Curriculum. There is another path forward.

The Board does not currently have all the information it needs to make informed decisions about Amplify. There are open questions about it remaining.
Staff will likely hand the C/I Committee an overwhelming amount of material to sort through, in a short amount of time. And press for the advancement of Amplify for its immediate adoption.

First of all, there is No "Emergency", which requires the Board to adopt Amplify, at this point in time.

Amplify has been piloted for the past two years, using the Waiver process. Waivers are good for 3 years. The Board can issue Waivers to use any curriculum materials, or withdraw them, based on performance results of the materials.

The Board should postpone a decision on Amplify until more facts about its performance, and its past implementation, are obtained. Why?

Is Amplify working? Some teachers say "Yes". Other teachers say "No". Many parents say "No". Where are the parent voices speaking in favor of Amplify?

Is Amplify closing the Achievement Gap? OSPI Science Test data for suggest that Amplify is not working to close the Achievement Gap for SPS Low-Income Students (Sue Peters' post). District Staff say that the OSPI data for 2018 is inconclusive.

The C/I Committee should not make an immediate decision on advancing Amplify to adoption status. How about another work session, now that all the materials are in? The Board Members need a chance to read all of the new material provided to them by Staff, and to allow Board Members a chance to receive public feedback about this material. This is how an important collective decision can be made, with openness, transparency, and accountability. Without the intensity of an immediate-decision timeline. Opinions and data are each important, in their own way.

But the Board should not be pressured into accepting (or rejecting) Amplify without (1) having time to ask questions, (2) receiving answers from Staff, (3) communicating with their constituents about their findings, and (4) having time to deliberate among themselves.

The Board could also extend public testimony at their next scheduled meeting, to allow both sides of the Amplify Adoption controversy to be adequately heard in open forum.

Concerned Parent
suep. said…
@Earthling, I agree with a lot of what you appear to be saying. The reason some of us focused (in part) on the data behind AmplifyScience is because that’s the rationale that SPS staff used to justify bringing it into SPS—they said it was aligned to the new Next Generation Science Standards and would therefore prepare students for the new NGSS science test (Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science - WCAS) which was first administered in 2018. So it was important to see if the materials accomplished that. We also used the same measures and methods staff said they would use to measure the efficacy of AmplifyScience. The results were, overall, students who used AmplifyScience fared worse on the new test. This data is required by Policy 2020 (waivers) and was promised by staff in the 20 waiver applications they filed en masse. It’s my understanding that this evidence was not brought to the adoption committees. Ms. Welch has also attempted to discredit the data that some of us brought to the Board – when we were using the very measures and methods she promised to used.

At the April 2 work session, each committee member talked about the need for equity in science. No one is opposed to that. Those who push Amplify and the ‘new’ science claim it is different from ‘old’ science because it has ‘equity’ as its focus. But at no time in the presentation, and nowhere in the OSPI and SPS data, has evidence been presented that shows that AmplifyScience curriculum helps solve the inequities they speak of.

But I agree that a big red flag here is the whole provenance of AmplifyScience in SPS and how it has been funded and/or “gifted” and all the potential conflicts of interest or bias related to it. I and others have written to the Board and Supt Juneau and CAO DeBacker about all of this since January.
suep. said…
Staff has admitted that the vendor (Amplify) gifted goods and/or service to SPS. They claim to not know how much it amounted to in value. How can that be? Based on an estimate from Amplify for just one school, the cost of implementing Amplify in 20 schools could be anywhere from $1-2 million (not including the cost of 1:1 computers). The $100,000 Ms. Welch has mentioned would buy very little. This "gift" went unreported and unapproved by the Board.

Also, this led up to an official curriculum adoption. Staff have said they had “no inkling” that a science adoption was on the horizon (per FAQs from March 2019 C&I documents – sections of which were cut and pasted verbatim from Amplify’s own promotional materials, btw). That seems implausible.

For starters, in 2013, WA state adopted NGSS. That was a clear heads up to districts statewide that they would need to align to new standards. It would naturally follow that a district would consider creating or adopting new NGSS aligned materials – especially if it hadn’t adopted science materials in 20 years, which is what staff has repeatedly said about SPS.

In 2015 SPS created its NGSS alignment committee, for the reasons state above. That ended in a curriculum being “piloted” – Amplify Science in Mercer Middle School in 2016, and then expanded to 19 more schools in 2017-18, in preparation for the new science test that would be administered in 2018. What is the purpose of a pilot? This also indicates that the district was open to or getting ready for an adoption.

In a 12/1/17 Friday Memo Supt Nyland said: “Our science materials are out of date...District staff are preparing an estimate of what it would cost for a new science adoption.” In early 2018, Kyle Kinoshita announced that a science adoption process would begin.

Also, SPS had done a series of adoptions in recent years – K-5 ELA, K-5 math, MS & HS math, MS Social Studies. What was left to do? For staff to claim they had “no inkling” that a science curriculum adoption might be a likelihood in the near future, in light of all this and as the new 2018 NGSS test approached stretches plausibility.

Another concern: Were competitive bidding and procurement policies followed? All gifts and services to a SPS with a value of $250,000 or over must be approved by the Board (per Policy 6114). Did the Board approve any of the AmplifyScience expenses or “gifts”?

Pretty much every step of the way in this process, there is evidence that district policy, and in some cases, state law, was violated. The mass waivers violated various aspects of the waiver policy and were a concerted effort to avoid an official adoption. Former head of T&L Michael Tolley admits as much in C&I minutes from 2017. This was an end run around the Board to create a de facto adoption, which is a violation of policy 2015.

“Mr. Tolley noted a Pilot at Mercer to use Amplify online resources, and others schools arose as wanting to use it. He noted that a grant opportunity came forward, and with no time to do a full adoption, and to be transparent, those schools submit a curriculum waiver.” C&I minutes from Dec. 2017

Staff may claim they were doing a pilot or a field test, but they did not follow the scientific method required. Instead, it appears as many schools as possible were included in the Amplify “pilot,” including elementary schools and schools that hadn’t even opened yet. A pilot by definition is a targeted, limited sample with a control to compare to, and careful monitoring of data. Where is the data?

This looked a lot like an unauthorized curriculum adoption.
suep. said…
Another violation: The Instructional Materials Committee was not brought to the Board for approval, as mandated by state law. This came up in the C&I work session on April 2. From my notes:

About the IMC (the committee that is mandated by state law to approve various stages of the curriculum adoption process): Later in the meeting, during the policy discussion, staff (I believe it was Dr. Kyle Kinoshita) revealed that the IMC membership had never actually been brought to the Board for approval, which is mandated by policy and law. This was presented as a minor oversight with promises not to do that again in the future. This is problematic for obvious reasons, for it creates a pattern of policy (and possibly law) not being followed during the science curriculum pilot and adoption process. It also means the IMC is technically illegitimate.

Another odd moment: Some directors asked who was on the IMC. Staff said they did not know. How could they not know? This is the committee to whom they ostensibly took their committee rosters for approval –they just said so – and to whom they must or have already taken their curriculum adoption recommendations. Also, I’ve heard the members of the IMC include Kyle Kinoshita and Mary Margaret Welch. If true, then why didn’t they say so?

Also, if the people on the IMC oversight committee are the same ones the committees are tasked with overseeing, it provides no checks and balances. State law requires a certain number of staff members to be on the committee. But if they are the same ones conducting the process, how can there possibly be objective oversight?
suep. said…
(last installment)

Issues of conflicts and bias have not been addressed adequately either. The head of the science program and the main staffer overseeing the adoption processes for K-12, MaryMargaret Welch, along with a teacher from Mercer Middle School, Ms. Elasky, are featured in marketing materials for Amplify Science. Amplify is using Seattle as a “case study” to sell its products to districts throughout the country. Ms. Welch recently received an award from an organization that is co-sponsored by Amplify. Ms. Welch also helped develop CarbonTime (along with her SPS predecessor Dan Gallagher) and it was tested out in SPS schools. It was the only finalist in the process (How is that possible?) and therefore became by default the recommendation. Now Ms. Welch and the adoption committees are recommending AmplifyScience for middle schools and CarbonTime for HS biology.

The UW research component has also not been addressed. Some professors at UW are conducting research on developing NGSS aligned curriculum using AmplifyScience and SPS schools. It also involves an entity called The Teaching Channel. Where is the agreement outlining all of this? Were families notified? What data is being collected and shared? It appears our children have been used as Research and Development (R&D) guinea pigs.

Two UW researchers served on the SPS high school science adoption committees, Jessica Thomson and Phillip Bell. The HS committee did not consider Amplify. But at the C&I work session, Thomson presented to the Board a video that showed an elementary student doing the ‘new’ science which looked to be Amplify, which is what she has been researching. There are various videos that show the connection between SPS, UW and Amplify:

I have been told by the district there is no contract currently between SPS and Amplify. Then what is governing how student data is being protected, used or shared?

So yes, there is lots to see here, folks. Many questions arise. And despite what staff, including the Superintendent and new CAO said at the 4/2 C&I work session, it is difficult to believe that the process leading to the recommendations of Amplify (and CarbonTime) has been “clean.”

A place to start is with the “gift” from Amplify to SPS, which needs to be fully daylighted and explained to the Board and the public.

--Sue P.
Anonymous said…
Thank you Sue for all your hard work on this. The shenanigans around Amplify and the high school adoption are both ridiculous, and teachers are terrified to raise their voice for fear of being reprimanded or having a union grievance brought against them. The only hope is for parents to contact the school board.
sign me
dumbledoor supporter
Anonymous said…
There is no way for any entity to develop sophisticated curriculum support materials without partnering with schools to do so. School districts on their own don’t have the resources to fully originate, produce, pilot and assess in house curriculum support materials. What they can do is partner with a development entity, such as a university or publisher, (usually both) to be part of the external development process. That’s what SPS has done with Amplify. There’s nothing nefarious about it. It’s akin to allowing student teachers in the classroom. The classroom student teaching experience is part of how we develop our teaching core, just as piloting support materials and reporting back the assessed findings on their impact is part of the curriculum development process.

Developing standards aligned curriculum materials is complicated and expensive. Implementation and assessment also. It’s not something that someone without any professional background in education has the resources or credentials to do. It’s about much more than comparing (badly) data sets from one year to the next.

suep. said…
If it's all so proper, Salut, why did staff hide so many elements of it from the Board and the public, and violate policies in order to do it?

And why are they unwilling to answer basic questions about where the funding came from and how much was gifted from the vendor in question?

By the way, what did SPS promise Amplify (or UW) in return for the free licenses and/or materials? Our students' data?

It is possible to conduct curriculum pilots in a manner that is scientifically sound, transparent, and in compliance with policy and law. What has happened here with Amplify, SPS and UW does not appear to have followed these standards. Why?
Anonymous said…
Salut, the ends doesn't justify the means especially when working with children.

Carbon Time researchers took videos of students, interviews, work samples, etc.

Superintendent Procedure 4280 states "except in exceptional circumstances, research proposals that involve the collection of student video recordings for study recruitment or data collection will not be approved" and "Surveys, interviews, student-level questionnaires and reviews of student files are all interventions or interactions that would require IRB review" and "Active Informed Consent and Assent – All external research that includes the collection of student-level data must have District-approved consent forms, as well as the prior written and active informed consent of a parent or legal guardian on behalf of a minor student before data collection commences"

Who wants to FOIA the Carbon Time consent forms for the SPS student videos, surveys and interviews from 2015 to today?

Furthermore, teachers were paid for participating in Carbon Time and it required a 2-year commitment.

Prior to MMW taking over as co-principal investigator, the original NSF grant names Daniel Gallagher as a co-principal investigator with a commitment that extends to 2020.

NSF grants typically pay for salaries among other expenses. Was MMW paid a salary via this grant? The teachers were compensated through the grant. Who were the professional development funds paid to for Carbon Time training last summer?

And despite all this collection of student data and compensation, the data results were never shared with district stakeholders in over 3 years of data collection.

Don't get me wrong. I love a research-practice partnership. But ethics, outcome data and respect for the vulnerability of underage student subjects who require consent are mandatory.


Anonymous said…
Um wow. This is appalling. Yes, curriculum needs to be reviewed and tested.

But to have my child's data collected without me being informed let alone without my consent being given? That is a massive breach of trust. And to have my child's education be sacrificed in the name of tweaking unproven curriculum? If this is true, SPS has just opened themselves up to a massive lawsuit.

-Just Wow
Josh Hayes said…
Sue, thank you for the orderly and lucid explanation here. Speaking with my statistician hat on, your methodology is perfectly sound. In addition, every time I start to consider exploring the teaching opportunities in SPS, something like this comes along and makes me willing to put up with my commute over to LWSD for the freedom to teach a curriculum that gets my students excited AND develop mastery of the material. Best of luck to all the SPS families.
Anonymous said…
Just Wow,

Here are the links to what data Carbon Time collected:

1. Student-facing videos, Post-unit student interviews, Student work on process tools, Explanations Tools, Evidence-Based Arguments Tools, etc.), Pre & Post Tests

See data sources,

2. Full Data Set includes Student tests; Case Study Data Set collected Student interviews, Teacher interviews, classroom videos, student work.

See Data Source, p. 7,

3. Dissertation on Carbon Time which lists a plethora of data.

It's all out there.

Anonymous said…
There has been plenty of transparency around the Science Instructional Materials Alignment. The process is thoroughly outlined on the district website and easily accessible. The criteria for selection/recommendation is delineated and the different committee members, both teachers, professional staff and community members all listed. In addition the differing support materials are also listed and field examples given. Open houses have also taken place.

There is a cost to the alignment of the materials. It is not unusual for an originator to donate some or all of their materials for the testing time period. Teachers who work extra hours on the alignment may get paid for their time, as any professional would. This is how alignments get done.

I do not now what the interrogative reference to the UW and students’ data refers to so I cannot address that.


Anonymous said…
I have a question for Sue P. Given that there is no transparency on who the donor is for the science materials Amplify, given that there are so many reasonable questions, isn't it odd that the topic rumbles forward within SPS making it all the way to a C&I decision making meeting, when so many fundamentals are in question? Why is this? What does this say about the usefulness or impact of being on the board of this school district, if even in the face of obvious disconnects a topic like this is still allowed to move forward as if legit?

It's seeming like the tailing wagging the dog. The governance situation in SPS is so screwed up. There is really no accountability anywhere and the Board is window dressing.

Why is the Board failing here, Sue P?

Anonymous said…
Tail wagging the dog is right, in more ways than one.

To the parents who are mostly concerned about the program itself (business practices aside), what you need to understand is that Lawrence Hall of Science wears that pants on that one. Even if they wanted to, Amplify couldn't make improvements without convincing the Lawrence Hall of Science that they may be wrong about how students learn. You try convincing a conference room full of science PhDs who aren't actually doing science that they may be wrong about student learning without triggering their fragile egos.

And as to why there isn't more information about the effectiveness of the program already, see Lawrence Hall of Science again. They have an evaluation staff of 10+ people who are perfectly capable. If it was in their best interest to let you know how effective the program is, you better believe that you would have a paper emblazoned with PhDs on the title page to tell you so.


Anonymous said…
What I can't understand is why staff doesn't know the procedures for accepting large gifts & for textbook adoptions. It's not like it's first time either of these ever happened.

Anonymous said…

Good questions for the Board, and the Chief Academic Officer, to ask MMW and Kyle Kinoshita. Why don't you follow Policies and rules?

Conerned Citizen

Anonymous said…
This is all so pathetic.

How did Seattle Schools end up with another superintendent who is getting steamrolled by her own staff?

I've pointed out here before, the quality of the work of many SPS staff is so lacking, they'd be shoved out the door in the private sector.

I recently put a presentation together for my boss... on the first pass, I thought I'd analyzed and summarized a data set, and outlined my expectations sufficiently. She is tough (and our VP is even tougher) and poked a dozen holes right through my analysis and told me to fix it and come back when it was ready. I reworked it - the PPT deck is now 2x the size - with additional analysis and assumptions, and just represented it. She now thinks its ready to go to the VP - who will certainly find another dozen problems and tell me to fix them and represent.

Repeatedly - SPS staff does not use the data they have, puts together shoddy, rushed presentations, obfuscate the data to push whatever outcome they desire, and bully both the superintendent and the board into rubber stamping what they want - based on really poor work quality.

What does it take to either get some leadership that holds their staff accountable - or staff that can be accountable to themselves in this district?

"What does it take to either get some leadership that holds their staff accountable - or staff that can be accountable to themselves in this district?"

Good question. Election after election, people who run for School Board promise to hold the Superintendent accountable and they don't. They get in and have a myriad of reasons. I know that there is information that only they are privvy to and it may seem from the outside that more could be done.

But I again say - Board members get to say, "Board policies do not appear to be followed. I cannot vote for this action." "We have asked - repeatedly - for explanations on XYZ and received none or weak ones. I cannot vote for this action."

Enough no votes and the Superintendent and staff will get the message.

Since so many senior management are leaving - for various reasons - including Noel Treat, lead legal counsel, Stephen Nielsen, Deputy Superintendent, and Pegi McEvoy, Assistant Superintendent of Operations. Those changeups may be the Superintendent forming her own team (although Treat got a great new job and McEvoy is retiring and had been planning to).
Anonymous said…
AmplifyScience Adoption versus the Budget Crisis:

We cannot afford AmplifyScience.
SPS is currently facing a $40M hole in its budget.

The proposed K-8 Science Adoption Budget (as given in the C&I Meeting Materials for next Tuesday) does not include any printed material.
• No textbooks.
• No student workbooks.
• No printed teacher guides.

The Board is being asked to pay up front for:
“nine years of unlimited access to, and support for, the [AmplifyScience] program including annual incremental updates and upgrades to the curriculum.”

In other words, SPS gets a promise of passwords to online materials for 9 years.
But no textbooks.

Ten years from now, SPS will have no access to science curriculum materials
without a new influx of cash.

The up-front cost of Amplify is about:
• $1.3 M for middle school,
• $2.4 M for elementary school,
• plus three years of about $1300/teacher/year for professional development ($5.5M total).

Note that 9 years of 10 cents/day/child for printing costs is more than double the cost of this curriculum.
With a student:computer ratio of 2:1, printouts of worksheets, lab notebooks, and readings are needed for any individual work.

SPS would be paying an up-front fee for a 9-year-contract with a company that is 3 or 4 years old.
What is Amplify’s incentive to provide good service in year 4 or 7 of a pre-paid, 9-year contract?
AmplifyScience is a Start-Up Company.
They have no long-term track record of performance.
Will they even be in business in 4 years?

We cannot afford to take a chance on this unproven Science Curriculum.
If we fire librarians to buy Amplify, who will maintain the computers that Amplify is supposed to run on?
Who will help the homeless students have access to those computers after hours?

AmplifyScience is not worth getting rid of science textbooks, or librarians.

Real priorities tell us that Librarians, and helping Homeless Children with textbooks, come first.

Anonymous said…
Oh no, they haven't only been around for 4 years. They've been around way longer than that under different names. Don't worry, they've got deep pockets and can keep these games up for years. You'll never beat the man. its good to complain, but accept your fate.

Stuart J said…
Yes, this Wikpedia article gives some background.

Then this story talks about some of the ups and downs they've had, with Rupert Murdoch losing $1 BILLION before dumping Amplify to a group headed by Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Steve).

fyi, Emerson (mentioned in the article) is the group that is working on Super Schools. They were supposed to have an event in Seattle on May 2, but I found notices saying it was cancelled. But you can read about Emerson here.

Back to Amplify. The Fast Company article makes it sound interesting. Maybe it has some good attributes. But, the data Sue P writes about should be taken really seriously. The checks and balances should be taken really seriously. So should the questions about support for parents, usefulness for students who don't have sufficient computer access, and other items mentioned above.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for those links Stuart J. Fascinating reading! However, I might disagree that the Fast Company article makes Amplify look interesting. The whole scenario, to my eye, plays like an episode of "Silicon Valley". A massive quantity of resources, egos, and money thrown into a curriculum whose promise is incremental (up or down) at best. And, once sufficient money is committed - failure is often not an option. A classic scenario when business interests insert themselves too deeply into education. I also agree with northwesterner that this entire process sappears to be steamrolling the new superintendent. But, then again, she was not my first choice for sup. I do not think she has the backbone to effectively resolve this kerfuffle in a manner that puts student educational goals foremost. That is my opinion based on her communications and accomplishments to date.

Stuart J said…
I mean "interesting" in the sense that the lessons sound like they have potential to be useful teaching tools. There are some simulations, for example with population growth, where software could open up some new ways of learning. However, and this is a big however, there are a lot of no cost simulations that might also do the same thing. I've not studied this in depth, but taking a quick look at Phet from U C Boulder, there appear to be many simulation programs students can use. Depending on cost, it could be a lot less expensive to put together some supplements using these type of programs than to buy something. I definitely do not like the sound of paying for 9 years up front, then not having anything in year 10.

There's a huge amount that can go wrong with online learning. This story from the NY Times talks about Kansas protests against the Summit Learning platform. The students did not want to spend all their time on Summit's platform approach to learning, which is screen time and facilitators instead of teachers. (this may or may not be what their charter schools do. I don't know their charter schools). Here is an excerpt from the article:

Many families in the Kansas towns, which have grappled with underfunded public schools and deteriorating test scores, initially embraced the change. Under Summit’s program, students spend much of the day on their laptops and go online for lesson plans and quizzes, which they complete at their own pace. Teachers assist students with the work, hold mentoring sessions and lead special projects. The system is free to schools. The laptops are typically bought separately.

Then, students started coming home with headaches and hand cramps. Some said they felt more anxious. One child began having a recurrence of seizures. Another asked to bring her dad’s hunting earmuffs to class to block out classmates because work was now done largely alone.

Now, this prompts some questions about health, repetitive motions, lack of personal interaction etc, for evaluating anything online, whether it is Phet, Khan Academy, Amplify, Summit etc. Even if Amplify is solid now in these regards, is there any guarantee it will be the same in 3 or 5 years? Not really. At a minimum, the board should have some type of a performance clause, not just a receipt for money paid that may not be worth a nickel if Amplify makes major changes, or goes bankrupt, etc.

Anonymous said…
At least parents in these Kansas Schools were given a choice to choose this particular Curriculum. SPS Parents were not given a choice. Amplify was imposed on them, and their children, through a distortion of Board Policy 2020, the Curriculum Materials Waiver Process. The SPS Board now needs to deal with this.

Seattle Parent
Anonymous said…
Reading the article from NYT about Summit learning:

it reads similar to what is playing out in Seattle.

Silicon Valley Experts: Change is scary, We know best. Just trust us.
Parents: Our kids are suffering. They don't like this. We want our teachers back.
SVE: We are the experts. Your kids feelings are irreverent. Trust us.
Parents: We have decided to send our kids to Catholic school. We are out of here.

When will Seattle start learning from the mistakes made from other school districts? We don't live in a bubble. Let's take advantage of other people's experiences.

-Just Wow

Anonymous said…

-Just Wow
CascadiaMom said…
Just to bring it back to the children... my daughter learned a new skill this year while doing Amplify science at Hamilton - watching Cat Videos on YouTube!!! Apparently it is so boring and they finish the modules so early that they watch cat videos. Science went from being her most favorite subject to her least favorite in <1 year. Amplify has go to go.
Anonymous said…
The NYT article about Kansas and Summit Learning reads as a cautionary tale. Parents complained, students walked out in protest, and families left the district. There's an online petition from an Ohio district. An EdWeek article discusses additional concerns about questionable content on the platform. What is perhaps sold as a feature - links to outside content - seems like a bug. Who is vetting that content? This seems no better than the situation we're in now with teachers randomly pulling material from the web (sometimes good, sometimes bad). Elsewhere, supporters of the online learning platform have suggested concerns may be attributed to nostalgia or resistance to change (sound familiar?). While the links refer to Summit Learning, not Amplify, the issues around online "personalized learning" platforms seem just as applicable to Amplify.

-be concerned
Tired Mom said…
800 pages?? I mean, the Mueller Report was only 448. Is anyone putting together a crowdsourcing team to read through the whole thing and come up with a summary for, you know, tired parents with kids and jobs and lives?
Anonymous said…
What is happening with Board Policy 2024, related to online learning? The vote was delayed, and now it's on the C&I agenda.

suep. said…
@Stuart J -- It’s true the history of Amplify goes back to Rupert Murdoch. As you noted, it was originally owned by Murdoch’s News Corp Company, then sold in 2015 to a group of investors, including Joel Klein, Larry Berger and Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Steve) and her Emerson Collective.

News Corp Completes Sale of Amplify Digital Education Businesses

News Corp. Sells Amplify to Joel Klein, Other Executives

Amplify's history with the Seattle School District goes back to at least 2014, when the District bought its assessment product -- Amplify mCLASS Beacon. The price of the Amplify assessment coincidentally (or not) came in just under the $250,000 threshold required for Board approval -- $244,375. So it was purchased and implemented by District staff without Board knowledge or oversight.

Amplify’s mCLASS Beacon assessment was controversial, flawed and unpopular (like Amplify’s Science curriculum would later be). Various teachers and principals complained about it. Parents said that their students’ test results were being withheld from them, and teachers said students fared poorly on the tests, and the material didn’t relate to what they were learning in class.

When the District subsequently conducted a survey about Amplify’s assessment, it received very mixed responses from school staff:

Amplify Survey

Despite all these problematic issues, in June 2015 Teaching & Learning and assessments staff proposed expanding the use of the Amplify tests throughout the District. This time they were obligated to bring the contract renewal to the Board because the cost of an expansion surpassed the $250,000 mark – it was up to $433,160. Based on the negative responses from schools and staff, the Board majority (myself included) voted against an expanded contract with Amplify, and the proposal did not pass.

That was the last we heard of Amplify until it was revealed to the Curriculum & Instruction Policy Committee in late 2017 that it had re-emerged as a Science curriculum that was being used by 20 schools via (an abuse of) the waiver process.

I have since heard that the assessment component of Amplify Science is a weakness. I have also heard that the Amplify Science curriculum is not culturally responsive. These are both required attributes for adoption, according to Board policy, the evaluation rubrics used, and, I would assume, the Request for Proposal (RFP) documents in which the district outlined its requirements to vendors.

So when you add to this list of failings the 2018 student NGSS test result data and the negative feedback from parents, students and teachers about their experiences with AmplifyScience, it defies logic that it should be recommended to the Board as a good choice for our students.

Adopting AmplifyScience is clearly not in the best interests of our students. So whose interests are being served by this recommendation?

-- Sue P.
Device Access said…
My middle schooler is using Amplify and her classroom has 3 different types of devices that students can use to access the material. There are a few desktop computers and then 2 different calibers of tablets (varying in degree of age, clunkiness and slowness). There is a big difference in the student's learning experience of the classroom/lesson depending on whether they are accessing the material through the best device, the second best device, the third best device or over another student's shoulder. This survival of the fittest dash for the best device results in an unfortunate stratification within the class of who has access to better levels of support for their learning. It's like SPS has tier 1-4 schools depending on their student populations, only here that is spread inside the classroom to individual students. Because the classroom does not have access to enough good, up-to-date computers to use Amplify on, there is a gap WITHIN the classroom. And if you think the stronger students who are already more into science aren't strategizing how to learn on the best devices, well, think again. Who's wasting more class time waiting for their device to start up, girls or boys? white students or latinx students? students with higher grades or lower grades? students with homes or students without?

We can't buy an online curriculum when the students don't all have equally good access to it. It widens the gap and reinforces institutional racism.
Anonymous said…
Do students access Amplify only in the classroom? If so, what science learning is happening outside of the classroom? Is there homework? Additional reading? Anything?

Cat videos...sigh. Will complaining about that cause teachers to be directed to spend time monitoring student screens (instead of actually teaching) or will the Board maybe rethink the use of Amplify?

just curious
Anonymous said…
@Tired Mom
Yes, there is "one entire sentence" in MMW's Curriculum Adoption Report about how the Amplify Pilot-Project was implemented.
See if you can find this single sentence in the 800-page document.

@Just Wow
Yes, other School Districts can now learn from our Mistakes, as we start to learn from them ourselves.
School District Staff accepting money from a Vendor to fund a 2-year Pilot-Project, of an untested Science Curriculum? Without telling the Board, or the Public? That's a takeaway.

Lawrence Hall of Science Research Staff are the developers of Amplify. Maybe a Board Member could call them for answers about how Amplify was implemented in SPS.

@SE Mom (last Tuesday Open Thread)
"The Washington MS administration was "excited" announce that they didn't fulfill their obligation to teach kids science during the school year and may be offering summer school so they can finish doing their jobs. (See below.) Too bad for kids who may have to work over the summer, don't have transportation, or need to watch younger siblings, but exciting and thrilling for those who are able to give up their vacation to finish the school year over the summer.

Any word from Superintendent Juneau, or Chief Academic Officer Denise DeBacker, or MMW, on the Equity and Educational Justice your kids are receiving at Washington Middle School?
Perhaps they are just dismissing you because you are making "noise" by posting on this Blog.

@Cascadia Mom (about Amplify at Hamilton)
"Just to bring it back to the children... my daughter learned a new skill this year while doing Amplify science at Hamilton - watching Cat Videos on YouTube!!! Apparently it is so boring and they finish the modules so early that they watch cat videos. Science went from being her most favorite subject to her least favorite in <1 year. Amplify has to go."

Thank you for sharing this important insight, @Cascadia Mom.
I wonder if "Cat Videos Appreciation" appears in MaryMargaret Welch's passionate presentations to the Board, about Equity, Educational Justice, and the need for Next Gen Standards, as well as AmplifyScience?

"Cat Video Questions" now need to be added to the OSPI State Science tests, UW SPS Surveys, and MMW's PPTs, to determine what SPS students actually learned in their SPS Science Classes.

Predictable, at the last Board meeting there were a number of speakers signed up to talk about WMS. The Superintendent had two tweets that night; complimenting Kimble Elementary performers and a photo of her water pitcher and a tweet saying:

"At @SeaPubSchools
board meeting. Don’t worry. I’m staying hydrated. #SPSConnects"

I generally appreciate the Superintendent's sunny outlook but it's hard to reconcile all that testimony with that tweet.

Anonymous said…
@just curious,

I have two kids taking the science online. There is only access in the classroom and none from home, the library, etc.

The classroom access as they describe to me also seems limited. The entire class goes through the online lesson at the same time and can not go back on their own to view portions of the lesson again. I'm not sure if this classroom as a whole approach is per teacher preference, or how the lessons are available from the server.

kellie said…
One of my kids needed to take Chemistry via Red Comet for a variety of reasons. While the course work was pretty descent, the primary thing learn with this class was timing and I suspect this has to do with credit clock hours.

The lessons were set up with a "minimum time" for completion of 60 minutes. The vast majority of the lesson were complete in 15 minutes and the remaining 45 minutes were spent hitting the keyboard every so often to mimic on screen engagement.

Because of this, I strongly suspect that CascadiaMom is accurately assessing the situation. While online curriculum is touted as being very flexible, because there is a minimum clock hours requirement in public schools, and because they want kids racing through, there is likely a lot of lost time spent making the algorithms work.

suep. said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
suep. said…
Amplify requires a 1:1 computer ratio for students to use it. So as Device Access points out, there are inherent inconsistencies and inequities with a tech dependent curriculum. It also brings more expenses with it.

I believe this has been a problem for the AmplifyScience "pilot" from the start. At the Nov 15, 2017 Board meeting (my last), staff introduced to the Board a request to spend up to $1 million on computers, for students and teachers, in order to implement a science "pilot."

It was accompanied by testimony by Mercer Intl Middle School teacher Emily Elasky and Mercer principal, Chris Carter, as well as Kyle Kinoshita, SPS Chief of Curriculum Instruction and Assessment. They talked about a computer based science curriculum that Mercer and some other schools were piloting. They didn't identify it. The BAR at introduction was 17 pages long. It doesn’t mention Amplify by name.

Two weeks later, at the Dec. 7 Board meeting, they came back to the Board with a different version of the BAR that had redlined info not included at Intro. The BAR and documents were now 34 pages long. They still asked to spend as much as $1 million, but this time included a purchase order (dated Nov. 30 -- the previous week. Does that mean the order went out before the Board approved it?) for $598,297 worth of computers for "Amplify Science and other student support."

This was the first meeting of the new Board. Director Mack amended the amount down to what was actually needed, rather than approving the $1 million blank check staff had requested, and it passed.

I don't know that the Board fully realized that this amounted to allocating nearly $600,000 to enable a pilot of a curriculum that was still in development.

One takeaway: This purchase was for 1280 student laptops plus teacher computers. At $358 per laptop, a 1:1 laptop purchase for the district would be a hefty investment. $358 x 53,000 students – extremely rough estimate – equals nearly $19 million. It’s hard to reconcile such expenditures when the district is saying it can’t afford librarians and teachers and counselors. (I know tech comes from a different pot of money, but the question of priorities still remains.)

Also: Are we to understand that the District was willing to invest $600k in computers for an untested curriculum that it was only piloting, and had no intention of adopting permanently? If so, how is that an acceptable use of public funds?

Or is this further evidence of some staff members' commitment to the Amplify product in advance of the official curriculum adoption, and their belief or intent to make a permanent investment in the form of an official adoption?

This computer purchase was identified as expressly for Amplify Science. This was in Dec 2017, before the official curriculum adoption had begun. But evidently the district was already willing to be deeply invested in Amplify, despite the lack of a formal and transparent process or Board approval.

--Sue P.
suep. said…
To an earlier comment about the inefficacy of the Board – the current system doesn’t equip the Board to fully exercise necessary oversight. Though some try valiantly, it’s hard to catch everything, especially in cases such as these when so much is done under the radar of the Board, without transparency, and in violation of policy.

As Tired Mom points out, at 800 pages, tomorrow’s C&I documents are twice as long as the Mueller Report. Currently none of it is available for public review. I imagine that includes all the rubric forms and feedback from the three committees. But still, that’s an unreasonable amount of documents for the Board to have to process for one 2-hour meeting. The School Board has no staff or aides to help them process such information and prepare for meetings – unlike City Council members who each have four (!) paid staffers. This is another example of why the School Board should be a paid position with dedicated staff.

As to whether the Board holds the Superintendent accountable, both Supt. Juneau and CAO Diane DeBacker inherited the science adoption mess. But they have the authority to demand answers and accountability from their staff, and put the process on hold until this is all resolved. Conversely, if they do nothing, this will be part of their legacy. It would be shame to have their early tenure in Seattle marked in this way. The Board also has the authority to demand answers and data and do not need to advance anything that they do not feel fully confident in.

It's clear that Board directors don't currently have the information they need to confidently support these recommendations. And I believe there is enough evidence against selecting Amplify and CarbonTime. I’m not certain about the other recommendations.

@ The comments earlier about the Board’s role in the curriculum adoption and staff work product, I agree that too often presentations and documents from some staff are lacking in either coherence or substance. Those likely would not cut it in the outside world. But I also want to point out there are also central staff members who produce fine work, and the district has run curriculum adoption processes before with integrity and decent results. So it is possible. The recent Social Studies adoption comes to mind.

But this current adoption process is the most irregular and compromised that I’ve come across and has far too many serious questions and liabilities hanging over it for the Board to be able to approve the recommendations with the confidence they need.

To advance or support these recommendations under these circumstances would be a serious abrogation of their oversight duties, and their responsibilities to uphold policy and law.

--Sue P.
Anonymous said…
Amen Sue.

Please return to the board! You were always thoughtful and evenhanded, considering the breadth of the student population SPS serves. Your current advocacy for science is articulate, well reasoned, and impassioned. Thank you. None of the current board members are even close.

Your friend and neighbor.
Magnolia Resident
Anonymous said…
When it comes to Amplify, or any online curriculum, enough cannot be said about the huge problems that SPS has around computer technology.

There are multiple problems with hardware like old and broken computers and not enough computers for all students (even 1:2), and that's during times when there is no testing. What happens to science curriculum in May when the testing window starts and all the computers are needed for that?

There are also many issues with the wireless in the buildings, at least in the schools that have not been remodeled. Some of the wiring in our building is from the 1950's. This causes not only problems with lights and fuse boxes needing to be reset, it can also cause our wireless to go down and/or be VERY slow. What happens to Science curriculum when that happens?

I use computers in my class for some lessons, however I always know that I need a backup plan for those days just in case the technology fails me. I just know that I would not want that headache EVERY day, even IF i thought Amplify was a good curriculum--which I don't.

Teresa Alsept

Middle Mom said…
Seattle students can access Amplify at home through the SPS student portal. Takes them to

I also happened to notice this 2014 Amplify response to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) (see pages 8-14 for Amplify's responses).

As a naive middle school parent the discussion of "pull mechanisms," inter-state purchasing consortia*, multiplayer games (?!), "always connected devices," etc. At least back in 2014 they were explicitly seeking to influence student behavior and parent involvement.

They say, "Parent involvement can be measured by surveys of faculty and of parents. Online metrics such as logins to a parent reporting portal, click-throughs on status emails, etc can also be monitored as a measure of the robustness of the school-to-home communications channel."

They complain that "Traditional procurement practices and policies, coupled with inflexible traditional funding streams, slow districts' ability to experiment, innovate, and re-allocate resources towards more effective approaches." And at least in 2014 they were particularly interested in pull mechanisms to minimize or eliminate these obstacles, notably:

1. Learning-outcome-based payments. I.e. a percentage of the payment for Amplify could be based on students' academic results and teacher satisfaction.

2. Buyers' consortia to reduce friction related to procurement in the K-12 education environment, allowing for faster piloting and scaling up than would otherwise be possible. And, indeed, Washington is one of 15 western states participating in just such a buyers' consortium, WSCA/NASPO (Western States Contracting Alliance/National Association of State Procurement Officials).
I'm not sure how that would work in terms of actually buying computers and software and stuff for the K-12 education environment, but apparently someone has a very good idea.

Anonymous said…
I know it doesn't directly relate, but the farcicality of this whole adoption reminds me of the Mel Brooks movie, "Springtime for Hitler." I mean, Packers and Movers Bangalore makes more sense and they are spam. (Not referring to the canned ham like product favored in some Hawaiian cuisine.)

Huh squared
Anonymous said…
And please folks don't click on the Packers and Movers Bangalore link. That is a serious Malware threat. Rather like the proposed Amplify adoption.

Huh squared
I will be attending today's Curriculum & Instruction meeting that includes this topic. I will try to do so live blogging but my first consideration is always taking accurate notes.
Anonymous said…
I hate saying this out loud, because I am sure the intentions are in the right place. But has anyone checked to see if MMW's nonprofit ventures in Kenya stand to gain from Amplify? It appears to be a rather tech-heavy curriculum in a relatively underdeveloped country, which cannot be simple to maintain.

-Just Wow
Not Profiting said…
Ironically, MMW's nonprofit (Seavuria) works to promote science lessons that are student-centered and incorporate hands-on and inquiry-based science education... in Kenya. In Seattle she seems to be promoting science lessons that are computer-centered and do not incorporate hands-on science education.

Here is Seavuria's charitable tax info.

The nonprofit spent $23,000 on travel last year, which seems like a reasonable amount for bringing teachers to Kenya. What does seem questionable is that teachers who go to Kenya with her appear to have an increased likelihood of being named to serve on committees she heads. However, if that actually is the case, that seems like a problem with how SPS selects committee members and not with an outside nonprofit.
Anonymous said…
Teachers who bring diverse cultural and educational experiences and who have gone the extra mile to broaden their perspectives should be welcome on any committee in Seattle.

suep. said…
Adoption Committee members need to be approved by the Instructional Materials Committee (IMC). (Board Policy 2015)

The IMC needs to be approved by the Board (RCW 28A.320.230)

The IMC was never brought to the Board for approval.

So the IMC is not legitimate.

Directors don't know who is on the IMC. They asked staff at the April 2 C&I work session, and staff said they didn't know.

I've heard that the IMC includes Kyle Kinoshita and MaryMargaret Welch, who were present at the C&I meeting when these statements were made.

This is another example of the science curriculum adoption process not following policy and law, and Board oversight being circumvented.

RCW 28A.320.230
Instructional materials—Instructional materials committee.

Every board of directors, unless otherwise specifically provided by law, shall: (...)

(c) Establish an instructional materials committee to be appointed, with the approval of the school board, by the school district's chief administrative officer. This committee shall consist of representative members of the district's professional staff, including representation from the district's curriculum development committees (...)
The committee may include parents at the school board's discretion: PROVIDED, That parent members shall make up less than one-half of the total membership of the committee;
(d) Provide for reasonable notice to parents of the opportunity to serve on the committee and for terms of office for members of the instructional materials committee;
(e) Provide a system for receiving, considering and acting upon written complaints regarding instructional materials used by the school district;

Board Policy 2015 Selection & Adoption of Instructional Materials

The Instructional Materials Committee: The Instructional Materials Committee (IMC) is established in conformance with state law (RCW 28A.320.230). The IMC shall consist of the following standing positions: the Director of Curriculum & Instructional Supports, the Manager of Library Services, and an Instructional Materials Specialist.

In addition, the Director of Curriculum & Instructional Supports shall appoint two principals (one elementary and one secondary) and two parents (one elementary and one secondary) to staggered two-year terms. The School Board shall be informed of the committee members each fall. Within the structure of the established adoption schedule, the purpose of the IMC is to:
•Approve the timeline of each specific adoption;
•Approve the membership of the Adoption Committee;
•Approve the selection criteria to be used by the Adoption Committee and ensure that the criteria are aligned with the principles outlined in this policy;
•Certify to the School Board that the final recommendation of the Adoption Committee was reached by following the process outlined in this policy and in any related Superintendent Procedures; and
•Ensure that a Professional Development cycle is developed.The Instructional Materials Office shall be the repository of all materials being evaluated during a specific adoption and made available to the public.
majbrewer said…
Hello, my name is Matthew Brewer, I am current middle school science teacher in the district and acting member of the Science Adoption Committee.

I write to strongly encourage action to follow the recommendation of the Science Adoption Team, and to move forward with Adoption of the recommended curriculum. We cannot meet the K-12 Science mission statement if we do not move forward with a Science Curriculum Adoption.

First of all, let me begin by saying that I am ashamed to read in the SPS Board minutes from April 2, 2019, and to hear from my colleagues within the district that attended the meeting, that members of board accused MaryMargaret Welch of taking money from Amplify Science in the process of our Science Adoption work. This is not true. Shame on you.

I can attest, as an acting member, with full certainty, that the Science Adoption Committee process has followed School Board Policy 2015, and has been clean, clear, and follows the necessary steps to ensure that the best possible curriculum is selected. Our results are based on the data from every individual of the team. There is no such thing as a perfect curriculum. We are looking for a curriculum that provides the bones to move forward to the 21st century NGSS; a non-action at this point would erase the work that we as a district have already done to understand NGSS and ill prepare all students for the NGSS-aligned WCAS. Any curriculum may be modified to meet local needs, making content more relevant to our diverse community.

At each step of the process the Science Adoption Committee, representing nearly 50 voices from various backgrounds – teachers, community members, engineers, parents, etc. – reached consensus with data driven results. In our final meeting on March 23, in which we made our recommendation, each group independently reached the same conclusion, based on the three (3) distinct sets of data: (1) our review criteria from curriculum vetting results – which elevated the curriculum to a classroom pilot in the first place; (2) classroom teacher pilot results – from both students and teachers, and (3) community survey input from open houses within the district. Each data set was weighted based on a survey of every member of the Committee during our meeting. Each team within the Science Adoption Committee reached the same conclusion to recommend the same curriculum.

We cannot meet this mission statement if we do not move forward with a Science Curriculum Adoption.

Again, at this point in time, regardless of the state of the budget crisis, a vote of non-action would harm every student in the district, would undo 5 years of hard work to find a curriculum that is NGSS aligned, would negatively impact our ability as a district to prepare a scientifically literate population for the 21st century, and would ill prepare all Seattle Public Schools students for the NGSS aligned WCAS test administered by the state each year. We cannot afford to do this, nor can I be expected to teach 21st century standards with a curriculum that contains outdated information and is not aligned with NGSS or state standards.

I implore you, therefore, to follow the recommendation of the Science Adoption Team, and to move forward with Adoption of the recommended curriculum. Again, we cannot meet the K-12 Science mission statement if we do not move forward with a Science Curriculum Adoption.

Thank you for your time.

Matthew John Brewer
M.Ed, National Board Certified Teacher
6th Grade Science / 7th Grade Science
Washington Middle School
Anonymous said…
@majbrewer - Mary-Margaret Welch admitted the district received free materials from Amplify. From the comments here, it doesn’t sound like it was just $100,000. Maybe $1 million-2 million worth of undisclosed free materials to Seattle Public Schools? How could that not influence the district in favor of Amplify? The Schoolboard was kept in the dark. This is heading into Silas Potter territory....

@dumbledoor supporter - It sounds like the SPS 'Culture of Fear' is alive & well.
Yet more reasons to....

- Reject Amplify
Anonymous said…
Matthew John Brewer--Thank you for your work in Seattle Public Schools and for our children.

I have one basic question. Where did the money come from to pilot Amplify? From Amplify? From an "anonymous donor"? Who was that person?

I have absolutely no idea if Amplify is a good curriculum. However, as a voter, I do know that transparency is fundamental to good institutions. Without it, the public loses trust. Before I could even evaluate whether Amplify is good curriculum, I would need to know where the money came from.

To be clear, I don't think any individual in SPS pocketed money or was bribed. However, I do know that it is human nature to favor a vendor that has given a "freebie." (It is why my husband hates it when I indulge in free samples at Costco. He assumes I will buy more.) If curriculum was donated, whether by the vendor or another party, it would make sense that even the most neutral committee may have some bias in favor of it. Again, this has nothing to do with you personally. It is human nature. And it is why transparency is vital to public institutions.

If you are able, I would appreciate it if you could disclose the money trail. Again, I am grateful for your work as both a teacher and volunteer.

Anonymous said…

Thank you for your work on the Adoption Committee. If you could shed some light on the donor(s) who paid for the Amplify Science pilot program, please let us know. Was the Amplify donation or results of the pilot program discussed in the Adoption Committee?

The Board needs to address a number of outstanding concerns about the Science Adoption process and recommendations. I am sure that you too want to see these concerns resolved quickly and objectively.

Seattle Parent
Anonymous said…
5 years of work, and one and ONLY ONE option is on the table for MS science? Doesn't make sense.

Anonymous said…
Even more confusing, WMS is where students are being told they can take summer school science to make up for a poor year of science instruction. Were they using Amplify?

Regarding Mr. Brewer's post -

First, the concern is that the district took money to pilot Amplify in violation of policy, and perhaps in violation of ethics rules or even state law. MaryMargaret Welch isn't being accused of personally enriching herself here, but by appearing in Amplify promotional materials she is acting unethically.

Second, he doesn't address the serious concerns that Amplify worsens racial inequities. The data presented here is extremely clear. It confirms other research from around the country showing that kids do not learn from screens, and that the kids who have the greatest educational needs are those who are hurt the most when screens replace hands-on learning.

We need to insist that Amplify Science, which is inequitable and ineffective while also being the product of an unethical and illegal adoption process, be rejected by the school board.
Anonymous said…
Not sure if any WA schools are involved, but there was a call for schools to join an NSF funded evaluation of Amplify Science MS, "ASMS Efficacy Study," for 2018-19.

Anonymous said…
"...The research team will conduct a random assignment efficacy study in 7th grade classrooms beginning in academic year 2018-19 and following up with these students as 8th graders in academic year 2019-20. Teachers in both conditions will receive professional development on the NGSS; teachers in the treatment condition will also receive professional development in the use of the ASMS materials. The recruiting target is a sample of 48 middle schools within up to 6 medium to large districts in California and/or Washington. The researchers will attempt to recruit all middle schools and all 7th grade science teachers in a district. It is anticipated that each school will have an average of two teachers teaching 3 sections of 7th grade science with 30 students per section for an approximate total of 96 teachers and 8,640 students. All students should have opportunities to learn science. This study will aim to draw valid inferences about the impact of curricula in districts with high concentrations of students who have been historically underrepresented in STEM."

Anonymous said…
I was on the adoption committee with Matt and many other very talented teachers. I'm personally an SPS parent with a masters degree in computer science from UW, my wife is a specialist at SPS, and I have 2 kids that recently completed middle school at SPS.

I'm not going to repeat what Matt said other than to say I agree with it. We did not deal with finances- we were exclusively dealing with the educational value of the curriculum.

For middle school, Amplify really was the best curriculum we looked at out of the many options we started with. We all see its shortcomings, but it's something that can be built on. Just like a bad teacher can tell kids to read a textbook and fill out a worksheet, a bad teacher can abuse Amplify by telling kids to do everything online and not go to the trouble of engaging with the kids or setting up the group activities or using the hands on engineering activities.

You'll note that everyone protesting Amplify isn't pointing to another curriculum as better. This isn't like the "Everyday Math" debacle back in the day when there was Singapore Math as a compelling alternative. The choice here is really between a 20 year old out of print curriculum that isn't aligned to state standards, or the best NGSS aligned curriculum available. Rejecting the curriculum based on conspiracy theories by people that did not engage with the curriculum evaluation process would be a mistake.

The main issue I would like to see pursued is whether this adoption can be conducted as an "opt in" process. Teachers that are near retirement or that don't like the new curriculum needn't adopt it, but let new teachers and schools that are enthusiastic about it take it on. A slow rollout could save some money, plus the old incomplete science kits now being used can be consolidated to extend their lifespan. Most importantly, it would make this adoption more of a bottom up process where enthusiastic teachers could adopt, modify, and evangelize the curriculum.

Anonymous said…
Eric--I appreciate your thoughts.

I don't think I can ever get behind a curriculum where the financial process has not been disclosed. Because it has not been done with transparency, I have an especially hard time believing that Amplify is the only compelling science curriculum on the market. The fact that there are no other reasonable alternatives makes me suspicious. Was the committee steered (unintentionally) to look at the curriculum that was favored by the most powerful people on the committee?

By the way, my kids go to a school where there was a Singapore Math waiver during Everyday Math days. Not only did SPS fight us about the waiver, when time for the new math curriculum adoption came they actually said that our school's very strong test scores really weren't all that great given our demographics. (Gee SPS, maybe that was because we had nearly tripled in size in 4 years, had 19 portables, more than half the staff were new and had to be trained on the curriculum, etc. But I digress.) Although the staff fought the adoption, the Board chose to overrule the committee recommendation and adopt Singapore Math across the district. The Board makes the decision.

It could be that Amplify is a good Science curriculum. I don't know. But unless you persuade me that the process was transparent, and tell me where the money came and went, you probably won't persuade me that it is the best option. And unfortunately, too many parents have felt that SPS has not had the best interests of kids and families at heart for so long that they won't trust anything that happens downtown.

If you believe in Amplify, I strongly recommend that the committee fully disclose what happened regarding finances. This is probably the only way the Board will adopt it. Even the Board did adopt it, the process would seem so corrupt that there will be backlash against the curriculum in many schools. Every reporter since Watergate knows the mantra, "Follow the money." If the committee doesn't disclose the money trail, some enterprising reporter will figure it out. I have no interest in reading all of Ms. Walch's e-mail, but one FOIA request and someone will be doing it.

WS Parent

suep. said…
Thanks for your input, Eric. But the data from the 2018 NGSS (WCAS) test shows that, overall, SPS schools that were not using Amplify fared better than those who were. What that means is, schools that were using either existing district curricular materials or some other alternative got better results than those using Amplify. So arguably, Amplify made things worse. This was especially true for low-income students.

Also, an analysis of CarbonTime by MaryMargaret Welch and others found that it too was detrimental to low income students.
(from p. 16):
Carbon TIME was less successful in higher-poverty schools with fewer organizational resources. The school percentage of free and reduced lunch was negatively associated with class-average learning gain. That is to say, classrooms from schools with higher percent of free and reduced lunch benefit less from implementing Carbon TIME. We discuss this finding in more detail below; we interpret it as evidence that schools with more organizational resources are more successful in implementing Carbon TIME. Previous studies have shown the percent of free and reduced lunch can be a proxy measure for material,social,and human material resources such as students’ access to qualified and experienced teachers (Darling-Hammond, 2004; Rice, 2010)and the overall quality of conditions in which teachers work (Johnson, Kraft & Papay, 2012).

If you apply a Hippocratic Oath here, surely we would want curricular adoptions to also "First do no harm."

Rather than accept -- and heavily invest in -- curricular materials that are so-so at best, mind-numbing and unsound at worst, and especially detrimental to low income students, the district is better off not settling for Amplify or CarbonTime, but improving what is already working, or developing its own materials.

Mercer Intl Middle School, for example, had a student pass rate on the 8th grade science test in the high 80s about 5 years ago. Then it fell last year to about 55 percent with the new NGSS aligned test and Amplify. It would seem that whatever Mercer was doing about 5 years ago should be replicated. It didn't involve Amplify.

-- Sue P.

Googling, I’m on this and way ahead of it. Very troubling as I. Along with a real journalist, are getting stonewalled for answers.
Anonymous said…
It is a sign of how messed up the public school system and finance is when we have a system that makes it more practical to buy tons of technology that will break within 2-4 years and online curriculum that leave us with NO curriculum in 9 years vs spending some money on supplies.

Of course, it's the same process that gave teachers, principals and central 10% raises, but left no money for librarians, pencils and notebooks. But...equity. I guess.

NE Parent
Anonymous said…
Eric and Matt

I noticed in your comments that you seem to know what the outcome of the "secret vote" was for the adoption committee. I was told that no one would know until the board made a decision. Are you just guessing or what?


There was another curriculum that was good. If TCI had been given half the chance that Amplify was, I'll bet it would have easily come out on top. It's the exact opposite of Amplify, 2/3rd hands on labs and 1/3 reading. Of course it's not perfect, no curriculum is. As one of the people in the district who worked to make changes to the last curriculum we adopted, I know very well what I'm speaking about.

I should also say as someone who was on the last Science Adoption Committee, that there was no need for a "secret vote". We all raised our hands and voted publicly.

As for your little jab about teachers near retirement verses new teachers being enthusiastic, I can see that you really have drank the kool-aid. I would instead say that teachers with experience know bad curriculum when they see it.

Teresa Alsept
Anonymous said…
"Teachers that are near retirement or that don't like the new curriculum needn't adopt it, but let new teachers and schools that are enthusiastic about it take it on."


With that petty attack, you lost all credibility.

Any teacher with experience who disagrees with your curriculum choice? "Near retirement or not enthusiastic."

You can't defend Amplify any better than that?


Anonymous said…
Sorry Melissa but I have to disagree with your characterization of yourself as something other than a real journalist. You do real journalism work although as far as I know you don't get paid for it. Many of the rest of us who don't get paid are also doing real work of various kinds.

Thanks, Irene. We all have a role to play, whether you get paid or not. Sadly, for many people if you are not paid, your work matters less.
Anonymous said…

Ohhhh Wow. MS Comp Sci, UW. You must be really really smart! Stop all conversation now. And those old teachers that won’t bow down?

Wait a minute. If you’re so smart, why aren’t you programming computers in one of the thousands of great jobs in Seattle? Why is such a genius as yourself, spending hours and hours as an publishing industry shill in a school district? And why resort to badmouthing your colleagues in the district? Their experience is valuable, not some sort of stigma. Sorry pal. Comp sci is fine. But it makes you no expert on natural sciences. Btw. Plenty of people would argue that Comp Sci. isn’t really science. Yes there are other options, TCI and even cheaper, upgrade our current materials. There’s 2 competing options. Did that big UW CS degree teach you about competitive bids? No? Google it. I’m sure you’re familiar with that strategy.

Jill Geary claimed on her Facebook page that lab maintenance of $30 - $50 was impossible for poor schools. Are you kidding me? The cheapest computers are going to be $350 a pop, plus upgrades, repairs, technical support, storage, assistance... for each and every student. Ever actually work in a middle school? Computers don’t last long in that environment. 1 slammed notebook, and the whole thing has to be replaced. There are broken laptops every day. Not to mention the very significant number of laptops and IPads that simply walk away. Are we really going to spend $10+M on this and THEN spend millions more on computers every year? And claim that is more economical than adequately stocking impoverished schools with labs and bright young scientist teachers? Eric, can you apply some Singapore to this? If teacher quality is such a huge problem in poverty schools as Geary claims, then fix that problem!!!! Resource those schools with STAFF and labs. Nothing is going to change that.


Anonymous said…
@Pathetic, that's some fine selective reading right there!

"Teachers that are near retirement or that don't like the new curriculum needn't adopt it, but let new teachers and schools that are enthusiastic about it take it on."

could and probably should be read as "Teachers that are near retirement [and for whom it thus does not make sense for them to learn a whole new curriculum IF they are comfortable with their own and DON'T WANT o change] or that don't like the new curriculum needn't adopt it, but let new teachers [who may be curriculum-less otherwise and are looking for at least some type of foundation, and/or who like the PD and personal connections that come with it] and schools that are enthusiastic about it [e.g., the staff and administrators like it or think it might be better than what they are doing now, AND parents and students express support for it] take it on."

It's unfortunate that you need to resort to twisting a commenter's words in order to try to defend Amplify. Talk about "losing credibility."

suep. said…
@majbrewer Hi Matthew,

You say: "I can attest, as an acting member, with full certainty, that the Science Adoption Committee process has followed School Board Policy 2015, and has been clean, clear, and follows the necessary steps to ensure that the best possible curriculum is selected."

Unfortunately, your claims, starting with Policy 2015, are incorrect. As a former SPS Board director who is well acquainted with that policy, I can attest it has not been followed during the science adoption process.


In fact, Policy 2015 has been violated by the process in numerous ways, beginning with the very first sentence which stipulates: It is the policy of the Seattle School Board to create an Instructional Materials Committee, pursuant to RCW 28A.320.230

According to state law -- RCW 28A.320.230 -- the Instructional Materials Committee (IMC) must be approved by the School Board. But in this current science adoption process, the IMC was not approved by the Board. Staff admitted this fact at the 4/2/19 C&I work session. That’s significant because the IMC is tasked with overseeing many important aspects of the process and bringing recommendations to the Board. Because policy and law were not followed by staff, the IMC is illegal and invalid, and thus, so too its recommendations.

The School Board shall be informed of the committee members each fall. The Board was never informed of the IMC members. As recently as a few weeks ago, they still had not been told who is on the committee. Staff members who are on the committee told the Board they didn’t know who is on the committee. (?!)

I hope you are starting to see the problems here in trust and integrity that have developed throughout this process, as a result of staff not following policy and law.

The IMC is an important part of this process. Here are all of its responsibilities as outlined in Policy 2015:
Within the structure of the established adoption schedule, the purpose of the IMC is to: •Approve the timeline of each specific adoption; •Approve the membership of the Adoption Committee;•Approve the selection criteria to be used by the Adoption Committee and ensure that the criteria are aligned with the principles outlined in this policy;•Certify to the School Board that the final recommendation of the Adoption Committee was reached by following the process outlined in this policy and in any related Superintendent Procedures; and •Ensure that a Professional Development cycle is developed. The Instructional Materials Office shall be the repository of all materials being evaluated during a specific adoption and made available to the public.
(…) The IMC shall approve that the appropriate process was followed and shall forward the recommendation to the Superintendent.

Since the process was not followed, including the formation and validation of itself, the IMC cannot approve the process and forward the recommendations.

It was the responsibility of staff to makes sure all policy and law were followed. They didn’t. So they not only failed in their duties to parents, students and educators, but to those of you on the committees. You have every right to feel frustrated. This puts your efforts in jeopardy.

suep. said…

Policy 2015 also stresses multiple times the importance of gathering community input:
After a thorough process that solicits input from the community on their opinions and values…

AND District administrators, educators, parents, families and community members are encouraged to communicate their concerns and suggestions to the Adoption Coordinator and to be aware of the materials review period…

AND The Adoption Committee’s Responsibilities Include: (…) Reviews responses from administrators, educators, parents, families and community members.

Yet I understand that a number of emails from parents and community members to Ms Welch about Amplify were disregarded and not shared with the committees or the Board.

Policy also states: and after looking at a range of instructional materials
In the case of CarbonTime, it was the only materials considered. There was no “range.”

…committees are directed to recommend for adoption books and other instructional materials that are selected to (…)Provide a coherent instructional sequence and stimulate student growth in conceptual thinking and factual knowledge

There appears to be a considerable amount of feedback from parents and teachers that Amplify and CarbonTime do not “stimulate” students but are numbing their interest in science. That would seem a rather fundamental failure.

Policy 2015 also stipulates that instructional materials that are selected to (…) Be culturally relevant to represent the diversity of students and contribute to the development of understanding issues of gender, ethnic, cultural, occupational and religious groups
Apparently Amplify is not culturally relevant/responsive.

Input shall be reflected back to the School Board when specific instructional materials are recommended for adoption.
As mentioned earlier, I understand that a number of emails were received by Ms. Welch from stakeholders in the community that were critical of Amplify Science but were not shared with the committees or the Board.

The Board should request all feedback from the community that was received during the entire process, not just the feedback from the letter writing campaigns that have been coordinated by Ms. Welch in the last few weeks.

The Adoption Committee should reflect the diversity of the district. Based on the materials provided at the 4/2/19 C&I work session, the adoption committees were overwhelmingly comprised of members who are white. Yet the Seattle School District is currently comprised of only 47 percent white students.


Director Pinkham noted that there was no Native American representation on any of the committees. He was told none had volunteered. He reminded staff that they should have reached out to him and could have reached out to his community to find volunteers.

And those are just the violations of Policy 2015. An outline of all the violations of Policy 2020 (waivers) in this process would take up another long comment. As would violations of competitive bidding policy and law and the RFP process, and policy and law concerning undisclosed gifts.

So, Matthew, I’m afraid your conclusions are incorrect. I hope you can begin to understand why those of us in the community, especially those with children in SPS who are impacted by curricular experiments and decisions, have valid concerns about both the adoption process and the outcome. And if we cannot have confidence in the integrity of the former, how can we have confidence in the integrity of the latter?

-- Sue Peters
Tired Mom said…
Thank you, Sue Peters, and thank you, Melissa.

When Matthew Brewer said, "I can attest, as an acting member, with full certainty, that the Science Adoption Committee process has followed School Board Policy 2015" I have to admit that he lost me at School Board Policy 2015. That is the kind of thing that makes a tired parent's eyes glaze over.

Thank you for linking to the policy in question. And thank you for explaining (with examples) how it wasn't followed.

In trying to follow along with this issue, you have both been really helpful, and I'm grateful.
Confused said…
I'm confused as to why an anonymous donor funding Amplify is treated as a deal breaker by some people here. If somebody gives money and wants to be anonymous would you want it refused?

Anonymous said…


People posting here are parents, teachers, taxpayers, concerned citizens, and your neighbors. It is so frustrating to hear that MaryMargaret Welch, Kyle Kinoshita, and Superintendent Juneau are dismissing people posting on this Blog as "noise".

Hundreds of complaints about Amplify and CarbonTime have been sent to MMW, and the Board. How can you read a Hamilton Middle School parent describing how her daughter watches "Cat Videos" after completing her Amplify lessons in 15-minutes, then urge SPS parents to accept the Adoption Committee's recommendations that Amplify is essential for teaching Science well? Especially, when you did not evaluate (valid) parental/student complaints about Amplify, or the efficacy of Amplify, in the Curriculum Adoption Committee.

If you care about student and parent input to Curriculum Adoption process, please moderate your endorsement of this flawed product (Amplify), as well as this deeply-flawed Adoption Process.

Superintendent Juneau is rapidly losing public trust over her handling of this Curriculum Adoption, as well as the 7th Grade Science mess at Washington Middle School. Parents have the right to be upset and outraged about what is going on.

Seattle Parent
Seattle Parent, Mr. Kinoshita said there was a document in the C&I packet about all the great things that parents had to say about Amplify. I'll make one for the Board about what has been said here. At least, I will be fair and include all comments, not just the ones that make Amplify look bad.

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