Turned Down Flat: Board, District say No to Parent Voice in Math Pathway Decision; State Rep makes Surprise Appearance

It was a very crowded and very long school board meeting on Thursday, April 14, 2016. Parents packed the room once again to discuss the contentious topic of middle school math pathways (core, accelerated, or exceptional), which determine the sequence of math courses available to students until they graduate from high school.

Currently the critical choice is made by the district for students when they enter middle school, and is based solely on a cut score determined by a complicated formula that averages two tests – one aptitude and one achievement – with an 87% or higher average required to accelerate.

The accelerated and exceptional pathways offer access to 8th grade algebra and 11th grade pre-calculus, which are often considered important benchmarks for some college bound students, especially those pursuing more selective schools. The core pathway, the recommended path of Common Core, also gives access to both courses, but in 9th grade and 12th grade.

Two years ago when the district revamped the pathways with the roll out of common core, the newly established high cut scores for accelerated pathway placement significantly reduced the number of students having access to middle school algebra, which is viewed as a gatekeeper to higher level math courses in high school, as well as college preparation and admissions.

Currently the district says 30% of 6th graders and 40% of 7th graders are on an accelerated or higher pathway.

In March, feeling that more students are capable of taking 8th grade algebra like in other nearby districts, a parent group collected 600 petition signatures requesting the district use an Informed Self Select Process for the critical math pathway placement. With such a policy, the district would make a recommendation based upon a cut scorebut the ultimate pathway choice would lie with the family. 

It was apparent at Thursday’s meeting, though, that the district will not [significantly] change how it places students – and the placement decision will stay at the sole discretion of the district.

Parent voice is part of the process, but only if families choose to appeal the placement decision and is limited to a district checklist regarding ‘Social and Emotional Readiness to Accelerate.’

Pathway Process Tweaked

During the meeting the Math Pathway Committee did say it had tweaked its process by slightly lowering the cut score used to place students between 5th and 6th grade. They estimated by lowering the score one point they could include another 10-12 students in the accelerated pathway. They also said Smarter Balanced Assessment scores could be used as additional data, with students scoring a 4 (highest level) considered for the accelerated path, but they would not automatically be placed as with the cut score process.

Parents not in agreement with the district’s placement can file a Math Pathway Advancement Request Form, which can result in a student having to take and/or submit more test and class scores.

Students doing extremely well in Common Core 6th grade math can also file a Math Pathway Advancement Request Form before 7th grade. The criteria for performing extremely well and possible 7th grade advancement includes averaging 92% on all course tests; only missing five days of school; a 92nd percentile or higher on STAR math tests; and getting a 4 on the 5th grade SBA test.

Assistant Superintendent Jeff Hogan said with the new tweaks, they should slightly increase the number of kids on the accelerated math, giving access to 8th grade algebra. He also hoped that as more elementary students are exposed to common core standards, accelerated pathway rates will continue to rise in the coming years.

Parents Say Not Enough, Missing Capable Kids

For many parents in the audience, especially those with current or approaching middle schoolers, that wasn’t enough. Some said the district was missing capable kids on the cusp of its high cut scores, and the appeals process (now called the Math Advancement Form) is too rigid, excluding about 40-50% of kids that appeal for more challenging math. Many parents also felt the district was leaving out the voice that knows the child best – the parent.

One parent said she hoped the district’s plan to increase its accelerated numbers in future years panned out, but she has a 4th and 6th grader and wanted to know what the plan was for all the students stuck in the “in-between” years – that many weren’t being allowed to try due to high cut scores, and for those who did appeal, it wasn’t an easy process.

State Representative Magendanz Makes Surprise Appearance

Washington State 5th District Representative and ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, Chad Magendanz, showed up at the meeting and addressed the school board about Informed Self Selection (ISS), speaking to its effectiveness since the Issaquah School District rolled it out while he served as school board president.

He said Snoqualmie Valley kids are no less capable than kids in Issaquah, where they try to get the majority of students to algebra by 8th grade, which in turn helps at the high school level with kids able to reach higher level math in their pursuit of college. He said pushing some core 24 high school graduation credit requirements down to middle school also makes scheduling easier for high school students limited by a 6-period day.

No, no and Nope

Most of the school board, though, was not receptive to Informed Self Selection.The exception was Carolyn Simpson who consistently communicated that the number of SVSD’s students on the path to 8th grade algebra significantly lags that of its neighbors.  She said it is important to find all the capable middle school students to provide the appropriate amount of challenge.

Simpson pointed to statistics showing that kids who take algebra earlier and complete pre-calculus before taking the SAT score about 35% higher; that higher level math is needed for STEM degrees; and also correlates with attending and succeeding in college.

Although the Snoqualmie Valley School District’s on-time graduation rate is improving, it is still sending fewer students to college than neighboring districts – in some cases significantly fewer students.

In 2013 (the most recent year tracked by OSPI), SVSD had 63% of graduates enroll in 2 and 4-year colleges.  In Issaquah that number was 86%, Bellevue: 84%; Lake Washington: 81%; Northshore: 77%; Tahoma 72%; Kent: 71%; Riverview: 69%; Auburn: 65%; Renton and Federal Way both were 62%. And of those school districts, only Issaquah had a lower poverty rate than SVSD.

Superintendent Prefers Balance

Superintendent Aune spoke about balance versus pushing students when it comes to math, saying balance was important to him as well as teachers, noting that teachers are seeing an uptick of kids “crumbling under pressure,” which in his opinion was “at an all-time high.”

Aune added, “There are parents that cause us concern about putting pressure on kids” and said he hoped parents understood the district’s good intentions even as they disagreed on the topic.

One parent who wished to remain anonymous said the district’s assumption that all parents will over place and over burden their children was offensive – that parents know their child’s capabilities and desires the best.

Parent Jeb Haber spoke to the board about the frustration over his son not being advanced and given a chance to try. Faber said he works in the high-tech industry; knows the importance of higher level math; knows his son’s capabilities and because his son missed school during preparation for last year’s placement tests, his fate was sealed as a 6th grader.

Another parent told the board that the same self select policy the high school uses for the Algebra 2 to Algebra 3 or Pre-Calc transition – one where students are given a recommendation from their teacher, but still allowed to sign a self select form to make a different choice  should be also utilized in the middle school math placement.

The district says there are points when students can still accelerate during high school. That acceleration route comes at a cost and is difficult to accomplish, though.  Students who are deemed “highly successful” in 9th grade algebra 1 will be allowed to take geometry online while concurrently taking Algebra 2 during the school day – or doubling up.  Many parents, though, feel this is an unrealistic option, as many students do not have time to add an extra class to their already full high school schedules.

The parent group in favor of Middle School Math Informed Self Select say the most realistic time to try to accelerate is middle school, and if it proves too much for a student they can always pull back with no detriment to their high school transcript. They say it’s about allowing a child the chance to try – not defining their whole secondary education path after 5th grade using a complicated formula from two tests.

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  • That is just plain wrong. I won’t even address the disrespectful part.
    I managed to get 2 boys through MSHS. The one deemed good in Math went through honors programs. The one deemed bad in Math was shuffled through an even worse Math track that what the current SVSD students/parents are experiencing today. Yes, it was worse. And yes, I had no say despite my efforts. We did home summer school math and that helped, but second son still thinks he’s a failure at math. He’s not, but thinks he is.
    I also have a good friend who has been a Math tutor for over 15 years. The majority of her students come from MSHS and CKMS.
    There is a lot more to talk about here and it should begin with the parents and students and their teachers. The District should not be the one mandating individual students’ education courses.

  • While I am grateful for Carolyn Simpson sticking up for parental rights, I am very disappointed by the Board decision for three reasons. First, bubble tests for math are extremely unreliable. Basing any child’s future on a bubble test is absurd and grossly irresponsible. Second, children’s brain development at that age are subject to rapid change. The abstract reasoning of the male brain is often one to two years behind a girl’s brain. But the boy can catch up in as little as one year and suddenly a light bulb turns on. We know this from brain imaging studies that children develop at different rates but all eventually develop. Third, the claim that SBAC test scores may improve over time is not supported by any research. In fact, in the two states that have used Common Core the longest, test scores have declined over time! Parents should organize and elect new leadership to the Snoqualmie Valley School District. There is no reason our kids should be going to college at a much lower rate than neighboring school districts. Parents should keep organizing and fighting for their kids!

  • The two states that have used Common Core the longest are New York and Kentucky. In both states, the experiment with Common Core has been a disaster – mainly because Common Core ignores child development research and attempts to teach very young kids topics that their brains are not yet ready for. This is why test scores have declined over time instead of going up. Both the Republican and Democratic Parties in Washington state have passed resolutions demanding the repeal of Common Core and the SBAC test. So far, our voices have been ignored in Olympia. But we will keep on organizing and keep on fighting for a better future for our kids using standards and tests that are fair, reliable and age appropriate.

  • Maybe it’s time we find some new people to fill the positions on the school board if there is this consistent level of arrogance and disconnect with us parents of students. Many on the board have been there for a long time and the more I hear about the decisions of the SVSD School Board the more I wonder how or why they continue to be re elected.

  • This is EXACTLY what we’ve been WARNING about. This is the “pathways” the STATE determines is right for your child.
    This is how you SILENCE the voices of parents. The feds have pitted parents against their school and the parents will LOSE.
    This is the Obama education reform agenda that will CHOOSE your path in life.
    It’s bad enough that the Feds have done this to public education, it’s even worse that the sheep in the STATE and Local schools are following along.
    What do we need? FIGHTERS. A fighter as a governor and in the schools.
    Read Marc Tucker’s letter to Hillary Clinton and you’ll understand this better.
    This is a centralized education system now. The feds run the schools. How do they get compliance? Go read Every Student Succeeds Act. In that federal legislation, the U.S. Secretary of Ed. “approves” “State Plans” now. OR, the state could “lose” federal funding. It’s all about the $$$ parents!!! It’s all about the $$. Your kids are being sold to the Feds who bought your school and you don’t even know it.
    Progressives and Republicans who follow this “centralized” plan think they can control the economy and now the workers who will enter the workforce.

    Until you start electing individuals committed to the U.S. Constitution, liberty and freedom, this is what you can expect. Unless you can afford to pay for private schools/home-schooling.

  • Mt Si was the same way over 40 years ago! I aced algebra 1a and wanted to take geometry, they wouldn’t let me without taking another algebra coarse. Since I only needed another math class credit to graduate I took general math instead and needless to say pretty much smoked that class. Jokes on them, after high school got a job in engineering an took on all the geometry and trig I ever wanted and got paid for it.

  • The same thing is happening in various school districts in California including mine: San Luis Coastal USD. See http://www.educationnews.org/education-policy-and-politics/access-denied-algebra-in-eighth-grade-and-egalitarianism/#sthash.bNoKefw5.dpuf

  • There are two board seats up for re-election at the end of 2017. We need a serious get-the-vote-out next election. We need candidates that know they work for the community, taxpayers and students and not for the district administration. We are lacking board accountability. Candidates interested in running should plan to file papers by May 2017.

  • Living Snoqualmie