West Moves Ahead With English 10 Restructuring

West High School has decided to move ahead with their curriculum reduction plan. The school has posted a document explaining the changes on their website. The one concession that the school has made to parents is their decision not to require students to give up time at lunch in order to earn an honors designation. Instead, there will be an embedded honors component where students will be expected to complete more complex assignments and take more challenging exams. Support for struggling students will now occur in the classroom as well.
From the document:

The staff training necessary for full implementation of the tenth grade English program will include:
• The basics of how to differentiate in the classroom. What is really meant by differentiated instruction? How is it successfully implemented at the high school level?
• Best practice strategies for supporting struggling learners in the heterogeneous classroom.

  • Ed Blume

    A couple of numbers jump out immediately.
    West’s 10th grade population was 457 students in 2004, and the English Curriculum Reduction Plan (ECRP) is justified because 71 of those students failed English 10.
    The MMSD document contains no insights into why those students failed. Ironically, 91 10th grade students read below grade level in 2004, according to DPI data, meaning 20 students passed English 10 even though they could not read English 10 material.
    The ECRP provides no assistance for failing students other than “supporting struggling learners in the heterogeneous classroom,” even though the district uses Read 180 in some schools, including the Affiliated Alternative Programs. I suspect that teachers since early elementary school have been supporting these “struggling learners in the heterogeneous classroom.” Why are these students going to benefit miraculously from the ECRP?
    Wouldn’t it be simpler to analyze why some students fail and make specific curriculum changes for those students, rather than reduce the curriculum for the other 380?
    The goal in English 10 should be to advance the skills of each and every student. Those who can read at the college level need instruction to advance their skills. Students who can’t read need instruction to advance their skills. English 10 appears to do neither.
    DPI data is online http://data.dpi.state.wi.us/data/graphshell.asp?SubjectID=0AS&GraphFile=GEDISA&DETAIL=YES&Grade=10&Group=AllStudentsFAY&EligibleOnly=NO&Level=ALL&WOW=WSAS&ORGLEVEL=SC&FULLKEY=023269040840&DN=Madison+Metropolitan&SN=West+High.

  • Renee Sandler

    I am ok with restructuring but object to use of lunchtime for honors section. Please consider other options. Otherwise, the curriculum looks good to me.

  • Beth Swedeen

    The option to offer honors and additional help to students outside classroom hours is now off the table. The report says that, based on parental and community concerns, the additional supports for both high- and low-performing students will now be embedded in the classes.
    The document also does provide a list of outside researchers/trainers that staff will have access to to get the needed training they will need to support all levels of learning in the English 10 course. Among them are Dr. Carol Ann Tomlinson, who is at the forefront of both research and practice on differentiation at all grade levels, as well as UW-Madison’s own Alice Udvari-Solner, who is a national name in curriculum adaptation and universal design. My read through the whole document is that the teaching staff and leadership took very seriously the concerns about creation of a one-size-fits-all curriculum, and will be doing as much as they can to provide the content in flexible ways so that all learners benefit. Of specific interest to me was the language, “accelerated students will experience depth of understanding and analysis,” rather than simply increased breadth. In explaining the honors program, the document goes on to say “More complex assignments, tests and essays will replace those given to the general class. The depth in questioning and assignments will require a more sophisticated response, demonstrating high level thinking and more commitment.”
    The document outlining the core course doesn’t go into specifics about individualization for students who aren’t reading at grade level, but that doesn’t mean those modifications aren’t happening. Staff at West already have adapted many of the novels for lower reading abilities, and are currently doing the same for other core courses. To go into the specifics of every modification seems unnecessary, and is often determined through the special education process in a child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP), which is confidential.

  • Reuben Henriques

    As a student who went through accelerated biology, I can truly say that there is no replacement for an honors section. Having students do extra work is cruel if anything, because there will be no organized forum for discussing this work! What is important to me, and I think many other students, is simply having the support group to discuss and analyze literature at a higher level. If our biology class last year was anything to judge from, accelerated/honors-type students have more questions and things to say — how will cutting off even a lunch component and replacing it with more worksheets and harder tests give them any way to do this?

  • Reuben Henriques

    Also, after looking at the “sample honors assignment,” I’m convinced it’s no more than making students do better work on assignments. It’s about getting the designation, not — as it should be — experiencing the subject at a higher level with other motivated individuals. Because really, with it integrated, how can a teacher teach honors students in class any differently than non-honors level ones? are we to expect that for group work, Honors selecting students will be in a group together? Somehow I doubt this.
    Also, any way to shorten that link a bit?

  • Laurie Frost

    Not surprisingly, there is much I have to say in response to today’s turn of events; but I only have time for a couple of comments right now. There are also a couple of links I want to get out there.
    First, I think that Ed B. is “right on” when he says that the failing students need a high potency intervention tailored strictly for them asap. (If I were the parent of one of those kids, I’d be enraged right now.) It makes absolutely no educational sense to simply give them another year of what has failed to help them learn for the previous ten years. (It is also immoral to do that, IMHO — i.e., to do more of the same when the same has not worked and we know it hasn’t worked.) Not only that, but it is unfair (and equally immoral) to take away what has been working for all of the other students in the name of helping a small group. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: for a District that celebrates diversity, we seem powerfully determined to treat our students as if they were exactly the same, each and every one of them. Our educational solutions show a persistent lack of imagination and a baffling insensitivity to the full range of humanity in our student body. The hard fact is there is no one solution that is best for all students. Period. It is grossly unfair — and seriously unwise — to implement a program for all students based solely on the needs of one group of students (perhaps especially the failing students?). Another hard fact that needs to be faced is that there are limits on how much differentiation even a masterful teacher can do in a regular classroom. We talk about “differentiation” as if it’s some sort of panacea. It’s not. It’s a teaching tool that requires extensive and ongoing training ($) and one that has limitations, like any other teaching tool. It is not the cure-all some people make it out to be (especially not at the high school level, when the range of performance is much greater than it is in the elmentary years).
    Oh, “we are currently consulting with them about their availability” does not mean the local and national experts listed are “on board” — or that the money will be there to pay them, even if they are available. Remember, this is the third year of the three-year SLC grant.
    O.K., more on all that later. Meanwhile, I encourage everyone to read this thought-provoking article about “the two tails of the distribution.” It contains many important and insightful points, for example, an explanation for why the gap between the highest and lowest performing students should be expected to get bigger over the K-12 years. (Perhaps it will also help you appreciate how gifted kids suffer, too, just like other kids who want to fit in but don’t.) Here is the link:
    http://psych.wisc.edu/henriques/papers/two_tails.pdf
    Finally, someone wrote to me and asked if there is anything we can do legally about the situation. I’m not sure, but I know it would help if everyone who cares about the educational needs of the 51,000 or more gifted students in this state would sign a petition requesting the DPI to promulgate rules for enforcing Wisconsin’s gifted education statutes. Concrete rules would be a definite step in the right direction, if legal action proves to be what it will ultimately take. Parents of younger children — who will more likely benefit from this petition — are especially encouraged to join this statewide effort. Here is the link to the previous SIS posting on that:
    http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2005/12/statewide_advoc.php
    Also, early next year, the DPI should have in place on its staff a gifted education consultant, something we have been without for over ten years! That will give us someone at the state level to complain to formally, someone to request an audit of MMSD TAG services from, etc.
    Hey, welcome to winter break, everyone!