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  • Writer's pictureRachel Langan

Committee Meeting Recap Feb 14

In case you missed it, here are the highlights of last night's meetings, followed by a summary:

  • 11 public comments on the topic of heterogenous grouping. 10 comments against and 1 neutral comment that focused more on the equity aspect.

  • Esports explained. Or not. While the topic was listed on the agenda, no other information was included and it was unclear when watching what the purpose was in bringing this before the committee? Informational? Exploratory? Asking for financial resources? Etc.

  • More time was spent on discussing Esports (25 minutes) than was spent discussing heterogeneous grouping (24 minutes).

  • Heterogenous grouping will move forward as a pilot program in the fall and committees will be formed to look at this from all angles.

  • ESSER spending: the district has spent a total of $585,799,000 and has $4 million left to spend. (Note: the district has received around $9 million in Covid funding yet raised the budget last year by $11 million.)

  • Update on the equity audit that was performed in 2020.

  • The meeting followed the agenda presentation, very little new information was presented.

  • Min 23:27 a board member asked why more time was spent on secondary counseling services when the elementary years are where most of the testing and planning for IEPs takes place. The response was that the secondary sessions include numerous one on one counseling sessions.

  • It was also noted that the counselor to student ratio in WCASD Is 250:1 whereas the national average is 450:1.

Summary of Public Comments on Heterogeneous Grouping

  • Minute 35:13 / District employee, parent to elementary and middle school kids. Wants a parent task force to explore the heterogenous grouping. Noted that there is a lack of diversity on the board, no Hispanics. Kids should have a say. Wants to see research that opposes heterogenous grouping in order to make an informed decision. And where do English Language Learners fit in? The district research is narrow-minded. Focus should be on academics, not on grades. What about kids who are bored or kids who are intimidated because they are behind? How will heterogenous grouping help these kids?

  • Minute 38:33 / Parent of 3 kids. Asks "why are kids below level? Have they been taught fundamental skills?" She noted that she has emailed the district about her questions but has not received answers to her email. Questions: 1) Are there studies that prove that this is best for all? 2) What kind of training that teachers have had on teaching heterogenous grouping? 3) What will this look like in the classroom? 4) What is our plan for a pilot? How will you measure and communicate this to parents? She added that it seems like a quick decision without looking at data. This is going to have negative impacts on kids, and cause frustration for kids. This was not communicated well. Parent asked the board to vote no and asked for task force on this topic.

  • Minute 41:27 / Comment was regarding GIEPs (Gifted Individualized Education Plan) and how will adjustments be made for the gifted kids? How will this affect students and teachers?

  • Minute 42:41 / Parent has more questions than she is able to answer based on the information provided by the district. She has looked at meeting notes and tried to piece together the puzzle. Is asking for history to help her understanding of: how did we get here, where are we going, what is our plan to get there? What issues are we trying to improve?

  • Minute 45:45 / Concern is about kids with IEPs (Individualized Education Plans.) How are we addressing kids being so far behind coming out of the pandemic? Wants more sources, including opposing sources. Is this going to cause behavior issues with bored kids and kids who are not getting their needs met? Have you asked teachers about this? Have you talked to other districts who have implemented this or unimplemented this? Can we have a parent committee on this?

  • Minute 48:35 / Parent is a former educator. Wants to know why this change is necessary? Can we not only pause but halt before making such a consequential decision? Children learn at different rates, even those who live under the same roof and have the same parents. It’s ok to learn at different rates but it’s not ok to push children down in order to raise other children up. Asking for a parent committee on this.

  • Minute 51:34 / Parent has 2 kids with GIEPs. Asks "How will GIEP services be provided?" Asked the board if they could answer this for him tonight? He was met with silence.

  • Minute 53:45 / Parent asks "Why is this a necessary change?" Notes that only pros to leveling were presented, no cons were presented. Asks what kind of teacher development is planned. Asked if aides be added to heterogenous classrooms to assist? Will interventions still be available for over and under achieving students?

  • Minute 55:01 / (This comment was more about equity and less about heterogenous grouping, although the commenter noted that these two issues are linked.) She stated that she is looking forward to the forward looking actions, like addressing systemic issues and root causes of children of color not being represented. Asks how leveling impacts the equity mission? Asks if leveling is related to equity? Asks if the equity director be included in this change? Can we look at this through an equity lens?

  • Minute 57:10 / Parent works in educational publishing, educational technology, regarding literacy, curriculum, and instructional design. Leveling and tracking has been around for 30 years and has been fraught with controversy. Found the district's research to be one sided and irrelevant. (She then proceeds to blow holes in all the resources the district provided in the agenda.) She notes that anyone can find research to support any position. She notes that it doesn’t need to be “leveling or nothing”. Does not believe that this is the best we can do for our students. States that there have to be better ways to bring students up, other than lowering the bar. Asks the district to talk to other districts about leveling and tracking. States that this crucial to serve struggling learners, but this is not the way to do it.

  • 1:00:29 / Parent is asking board to reconsider heterogenous grouping. Reports that her son’s teacher is censoring the books that he brings to school. States that his needs are not being met now, so how will his needs be met when leveling is removed? Asks "where are the counter arguments to the heterogenous grouping?" Asks what other steps has the district taken? Can we give each student a reading inventory to assess their reading ability?

Summary of Esports:

  • 1:05:24 through 1:30:45 / This topic was on the agenda but no supporting documents were included. It was initially unclear what the purpose was in bringing this before the committee. Was the purpose informational? Exploratory? Financial? Towards the end of the presentation some questions were asked by the board: Is this supposed to be a club or an academic subject? How will it be funded? How does it fit in with the school day?

Summary of Heterogenous Grouping in 6th Grade:

  • 1:30:55 through 1:57:24 / The information presented closely matched the presentation that was included in the agenda document. Some highlights:

  • No decision will be made at meeting, the meeting is discussion only.

  • Due to copyright issues, supporting documents cannot be included in the board packet.

  • For the last 2 years, teachers have had professional development in Reading and the topic of academic leveling continually emerged. 6th grade teachers approached admin on this topic. Teachers noticed limited opportunities when kids are leveled.

  • Instruction is driven by students and their pathways.

  • Research dates back to 1990s.

  • In 2015 the process was reviewed. This led to the guiding questions listed in the agenda on page 8.

  • 2 types of research was included: individual studies & meta analysis reviewed with stringent quality standards.

  • Research is clear: removing leveling improves academic achievement. Does not reduce academic achievement.

  • Various courses were discussed along with how they are currently leveled. (See page 12.)

  • Outcomes: the district will continue to research and measure results. An exploratory committee will be formed from the PTO, Padres Latinos, Gifted Pac, etc.

Questions/comments from the board after the presentation:

  1. Would parents be on the exploratory committee and how will you get parents on the committees?

  2. Not all parents are in those *groups (above) and their voices will be missed. How can parents be encouraged to be a part of this process? Go where our families are to find a starting place.

  3. The board looks forward to thoughtful consideration, is happy that we’re doing something to work on the achievement gap.

  4. Would a 6th grade reading class look like a 5th grade class? How does this change help students to move fluidly between reading groups?

  5. Director Herrmann supports leveling in 6th grade. Asks about age developmental appropriateness. Notes that this might sound scary to parents but thinks it’s “a pretty good move”.

  6. Director Whomsely reiterates parent comments. Wants to see and understand how these changes work, if they work. Notes that there are ALWAYS unintended consequences. Asks How many staff are there at the 6th grade ELA (English Language Arts) level and how many staff brought this (heterogenous grouping) up as a concern? (The answer: Multiple principals, multiple teachers brought this up at a professional development session.)**

  7. The devil in details. Research is not going to give us the answer. We need to look at schools that did and didn’t detrack. We need to engage with community, parents, peers.

Summary of ESSER Spending

  • 1:57:29 through 2:14:18 / Discussion closely followed information presented in the agenda. It was noted that some groups of students were over-represented, while others were under-represented in terms of who attended summer tutoring. There are obvious gaps in access that need to be addressed.

Summary of Equity Audit from 2020

  • 2:14:54 through 2:35:00 / Had to stop watching to pick-up a kid from an activity. If anyone has notes from this section of the meeting, send them my way and I'll post them here.

*The district historically chooses select groups and/or amplifies voices of certain individuals who will affirm what the district wants to implement. Dissenting and/or questioning voices are not usually included. History on this here, and also in an upcoming post.

**Having worked in public education for 13 years, I can tell you that professional development seminars are mandatory and usually go something like this: Topic is presented (heterogenous grouping). Teachers are separated into groups and told to brainstorm how to implement the topic at their school/grade level/content area. Then the district admin uses that information to say that this is a teacher-driven agenda when it's not.


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