Friday, May 10, 2019

Science Adoption Update

In a previous post, I said I had attended Director Rick Burke's community meeting last Saturday.  I came to listen to others but I also wanted to point out ongoing issues with the science adoption especially for K-8.

The most important thing to do is tell the Board what YOU think.  Despite the fact that whoever created the process for input on the various science curricular being considered decided that ONLY their form would be considered for input, Board policy says any kind of input - written, electronic - could be submitted and should be considered.

Write to the Board at: spsdirectors@seattleschools.org

For example, I hope the Board realizes that there is a weirdly low number for input on the K-5 Amplify curriculum.  It's something like 12-15.

There has now been an amendment put forward by Directors Burke and Pinkham to reject the Committee recommendation for Amplify for K-5 science.  They instead believe the choice should be HMH Science Dimensions.

They have no problem with how the Science Adoption committee did the work.  But it seems that somehow it was overlook that on the rubric used,  HMH Science Dimensions edged out Amplify.  As well:
An additional concern with the original recommendation of Amplify Science is that it includes a large computer-delivered instructional component. The original BAR, Section 11, Timeline for Implementation states: 

May 2019: The Science Department will work with the Department of Technology Services to provide devices to elementary school science classrooms not yet equipped with student computers or laptops carts at a 2:1 ratio. 


July-August 2019: Amplify will work with the SPS Science Department and Department of Technology to establish systems for creating teacher accounts and student logins and responding to ongoing needs for technical support. 

The School Board has not formally adopted guiding principles supporting or opposing computer-based instruction, and positive or adverse impacts of technology remains an ongoing debate. Especially in primary grades, social-emotional development and establishing personal relationships with student peers and teachers is paramount.

Given this background, official adoption of a technology-based K-5 science instructional material would be inappropriate.
I concur. As co-chair of the ITAC, I can say we haven't even discussed the issue of having computers to support this kind of science adoption.

More to come in the morning but I did want to make readers aware of this important new development.


Anonymous said...

Does SPS have info on what the rental cost of the Amplify agreement would be with K-5 excluded? That would be essential information re: adoption of Amplify for older grades, and without it, there's no way the Board should vote to adopt it.

Similarly, have staff presented full information on what ADDITIONAL costs are required as part of an Amplify adoption, but that appear to be intentionally or unintentionally hidden (e.g., initial laptop purchases, laptop replacements along the way, increased staffing for computer maintenance and tech support, improved connectivity, loads of initial and ongoing teacher training)? That is also essential information, and without it, there's not way the Board should vote for adoption.

Curriculum effectiveness and fiscal responsibility should BOTH be key factors in the Board's decision. To date we have seen little to suggest that either criterion is met with Amplify.

"Better than nothing" is not always the case. In some cases, the prudent course of action is indeed nothing. If there are concerns about a product and/or process, slow down and get it right.


Anonymous said...

Seems like by funneling technical support and additional computer purchases through DOTS and Instructional Tech, they are enabling some adoption costs to be born by the BTA levy dollars. What would that replace in the BTA budget? Would tech replacement and choices at schools then be driven solely by Amplify rather than a wide view of learning needs to be supported by upgraded tech and instructional tech support?

kellie said...

That's good news that there is some hope for K-5 science, where the adoption committee did their job and put forward more than one option. The last time only one option was put forward for consideration was the tragic EDM adoption.

Outsider raised some really good points on the other thread about considering the good reasons why the pro-Amplify folks have been pushing their equity argument so hard. The pro-Amplify folks are very effectively arguing that this adoption will solve equity problems in poor schools and not inconvenience those well-heeled schools with good teachers and PTA money. (Ouch!)

I really do believe in presuming good intent on all sides of a debate and that the pro-Amplify folks really believe that Amplify is an equity solution. As such, I think we can learn a lot from the EDM adoption, who used these exact same arguments. Eventually, our students will leave Seattle Schools and move on.

The Seattle Colleges (Central, North and South) serve a wide variety of students living in Seattle and have to interact with the real world consequence of the curriculum choices of SPS. All the former community colleges share a math placement test. Seattle Colleges have a very strict policy about placing SPS students into Calculus, aka the really won't do it, unless you have already passed a Calculus class.

The same math placement score that will place you into Calculus at Bellevue College, Shoreline College or Cascadia College will only place you into Pre-Calculus at the Seattle Colleges. When I spoke to the various math departments about this, they very openly shared how poorly almost all SPS students were prepared on math and that they really needed to enforce this policy. Period. They were painfully aware of the long term impact of the EDM adoption and were crystal clear that even the students with good math scores really needed at least two quarters of "real math" before moving on to advanced math. Period.

This is a real world consequence of intentionally adopting weak curriculum, under the guise that somehow weak curriculum is somehow more beneficial to poor students and historically underserved communities. Seriously?

Anonymous said...

Statement from SPS Concerning Science Adoption:


"Science Adoption FAQ

In light of inaccurate reporting by local media, Seattle Public Schools is providing information related to the K-12 science adoption process to both inform the community and to clarify any misconceptions and inaccuracies that have been reported.

How did SPS obtain Amplify for use as instructional waiver materials?
Amplify provided the program subscriptions (the digital portion) for free to SPS. SPS used existing resources to provide schools with the workbooks and kits (labs)."


OK, time to FACT-CHECK these above statements:

1. SPS states that Amplify provided the program subscriptions for the Amplify Pilot-Program, for FREE.
(no Anonymous Donor in this version of the story from SPS).

2. SPS states that it provided schools with Workbooks and Kits (labs).

Yes, but did SPS first get these Workbooks and Kits from Amplify (for FREE?)
SPS Purchasing Records show that SPS requested all of the above items (subscriptions, workbooks, and kits) from Amplify.
However, where are the records indicating that SPS paid for ANY of these goods and services?

3. Looks like SPS Science Department may have run up some serious debts in implementing their 2-year, ongoing, Amplify Pilot-Program.

Over $250K in purchase requests were issued from SPS during a two-month period, in late 2017.
The SPS Audit and Finance Department better look into all of the Amplify purchases (2016-2019), ASAP.

4. Who donated What to SPS?
5. How much does SPS currently owe Amplify?
6. Are there paid Invoices for Amplify Workbooks and Kits?
7. Are there Uppaid Invoices for Purchase Requests that were issued for Amplify goods and services?
(totaling over $400K over the time period of 2016-2019).

8. SPS Board, you better get documented answers to these questions, ASAP.
Before you vote to approve a 10-year Contract with this Company.

Outside Audit?

suep. said...

Hi Melissa,

The amount of community feedback that was counted during the science adoption process was very low for all three grade bands -- elementary, middle and high school. And not all feedback was counted.

According to the science curriculum adoption BARs, apparently SPS Science Program Manager and adoption supervisor MaryMargaret Welch and staff decided that the only public feedback they would consider would be that which was submitted on the official “Community Input Form” they created. They say the form was available at the sites where the instructional materials were on display in February and March, and also downloadable on the District’s web site.

They say all other community feedback could not be considered because “the communication methods were invalid” -- only the data from the Community Input Forms was considered “legitimately” collected.

Very few people filled out the official Input form. So the amount of feedback the adoption committees were permitted to consider totaled:

feedback from 12 people for the elementary school materials
from 10 people for the middle school materials
from 0 to 2 people, depending on the materials in question, for the high school materials.

(CarbonTime (BIO A) – 2 people filled out the form; District development curric Bio B– zero people; District development curric Chem A – 1 person; STEMScopes CHEM A – Zero; STEMScopes CHEM B – Zero; PEER A (PHYS A & B) – 1 person.)

That means that all the emails or calls that parents, students, teachers or other community members sent this last year to Ms. Welch, the Board, Superintendent Juneau or other staff about science materials were apparently withheld from the adoption committees.

It's a pity more people didn't fill out the form or go to the schools on the dates when the materials were available for review. But when staff saw there was so little public response to their efforts, that should have been an indication that other methods were needed. After all this is an adoption that impacts the entire district. Maybe a Survey Monkey questionnaire could have been sent to every school via principals and PTAs.

Board Policy 2015 requires community feedback to not only be solicited, but collected and factored in.

And 0-12 people responding in a district of 53,000 students is, of course, statistically negligible.

A version of this disclaimer accompanies all three BARs:
The volume of Community Input Forms submitted belies the community engagement efforts made by the Adoption Committee to collect data from community stakeholders. Unfortunately, informal and anecdotal input about the candidate programs could not be analyzed or evaluated because the communication methods were invalid and therefore the data could not be compared reliably with data collected legitimately from the Community Input Forms. The committee concluded that the extremely small sample size of public feedback data required that input from this category be weighted proportionately to reflect the fact that this input data reflect the opinions of only 10 community members in a district that includes nearly 12,000 middle school students.

Anonymous said...

My daughter and I *both* filled out forms for chem A, and if they are honestly saying I am the lone physics person, it was very negative feedback. I wonder if that is reflected.

Science mom

A.D. said...

Here's one possible reason why Amplify tugs so hard at the pro-equity heartstrings. Read the sections at the bottom of this page (https://www.amplify.com/amplify-science-new-york-city-resources/) about reading and literacy integration, Spanish resources, and supporting ELLs.

1) Amplify is being sold as a miracle cure for students who are not at grade level in ELA Listen to some of the terminology they use:
* literacy instruction in the Amplify Science program
* supportive classroom context
* powerful comprehension strategies
* becoming skilled readers
* setting goals for reading
* comprehension strategies
* reading instruction in Amplify Science
* sustained classroom discussion of text with their peers
* practice their developing reading skills in context
* students may not achieve independence for every literacy goal, but will move along the continuum

2) Here are the Spanish resources available (will SPS buy any of them?):
Student Books (K–5)
Student Investigation Notebooks (K–8)
Printed classroom materials (K–8) (Unit/chapter questions, vocab cards, etc.)
Copymasters (K–8)
Assessments (K–8)
Science articles (6–8)
Video transcripts (6–8)
Digital simulation translation key (6–8)

3) Amplify claims to support ELLs by teaching science without language
Amplify's goal is to "decrease language demands" and provide "multimodal means of accessing science content and expressing science knowledge." This sounds really nice in theory, but it's Fakequity because ELLs need teacher support and scaffolding, not millions of dollars of science-themed software. Language is best learned from interacting with human beings, not iPads.

This, I believe, is the schism between many of the pro-Amplify and anti-Amplify voices. Pro-Amplify voices seem to believe that students with weaker ELA skills need to be protected from exposure to challenging vocabulary in order to learn science, picture themselves as scientists, and thrive. Anti-Amplify voices seem to believe that students with weaker ELA skills need exposure to linguistic and textual features they don’t know yet, so they can learn them. They need guidance, support, and scaffolding provided by teachers, yes. Maybe smaller classes. Maybe more support. But exposure to challenge, not protection from challenge.

This is a massive philosophical difference. And the pro-Amplify view is on the wrong side of science on this one. Reading levels should never be used to limit the texts children may access or try to read. Limiting the difficulty of science reading based on student reading levels locks low performing students into low performance by depriving them of access to the very material they need to close the gap.




Anonymous said...

There was no online method to fill out community feedback. I looked at the material at Salmon Bay then went home to look for a method to submit feedback electronically. I scoured the emails sent out. I looked through various sps websites. I finally just sent an email to MMW and the board with my thoughts. I should have known it would be thrown out as invalid.


WSMom said...

I filled out some kind of feedback form online early on. I looked through the materials that were at my school and I felt very fish out of water trying to evaluate the materials. I am trying to remember if I filled out a form at all. I might have sent an email.

The materials were here is a box of books and some teachers guides. I wish I could have gone to some kind of presentation on the science materials (there may have been one but it was easy to miss). And now looking at the FAQ there were 3 open houses, one cancelled for snow. 2 of these things is not enough there should be at a minimum one per region. I can tell you most people in my school had no idea what those boxes of material were for. We meet a lot in the library for PTSA meetings and I let people know when possible what they were for.

I do think not accepting community feedback unless it was on their little (often badly written forms) is a bad way to go about things.

Anonymous said...

@ AD said: "Pro-Amplify voices seem to believe that students with weaker ELA skills need to be protected from exposure to challenging vocabulary in order to learn science, picture themselves as scientists, and thrive....And the pro-Amplify view is on the wrong side of science on this one. Reading levels should never be used to limit the texts children may access or try to read. Limiting the difficulty of science reading based on student reading levels locks low performing students into low performance by depriving them of access to the very material they need to close the gap."

Yes. It's ironic that one one hand SPS is pushing "Honors for All" approaches to Language Arts and Social Studies in the name of equity, while with science they are pushing an overly simplistic curriculum, also in the name of equity. Make up your mind, SPS--do students working below grade level need access to more challenging materials to help bring them up to speed, or do they need to be shielded from challenge? It seems inconsistent. (Although, I suppose the consistent thread is that in either case advanced students likely face a lowering of the overall challenge level, so there's that.)

N. Consistency

suep. said...

Melissa, my reading of the Burke/Pinkham amendment is not a rejection of the K-5 committee recommendation, but an affirmation of the correct results of the committee’s own rubric and work. They want to approve the materials that finished first according to the committee’s own measures. This is complemented with legitimate Director concerns about the developmental appropriateness of a tech-heavy curriculum for children as young as grades K-5, and the fact that the Board has never officially embraced or approved computer dependent learning or a massive SPS investment in 1:1 computers for the District as a whole.

They may also share community concerns about the many questions still surrounding Amplify, ranging from hidden costs to lack of supporting data to the lack of transparency about its provenance in SPS (“anonymous donor,” vendor’s “gift” of free materials, staff featured in marketing materials for Amplify) and the various violations of policy and law.

Also, apparently Director Burke asked Ms. Welch and other staff how Amplify became the recommendation for K-5 when it finished second after HMH. He was told the K-5 adoption committee voted to recommend Amplify instead, evidently overruling the results of their own rubric.