When last I wrote about the status of Accelerated Biology at West HS, I was waiting to hear back from Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash. I had written to Pam on June 8 about how the promised second section of the course never had a chance, given the statistical procedure they used to admit students for next year.
On June 11, I wrote to Pam again, this time including Superintendent Rainwater. I said to them “I do hope one of you intends to respond to [my previous email]. I hope you appreciate what it looks like out in the community. Either the selection system was deliberately designed to preclude the need for two sections (in which case the promise of two sections was completely disingenuous) or someone’s lack of facility with statistical procedures is showing.” I heard back from Art right away. He said that one of them would respond by the end of the week.
On 6/13, he did, indeed, write:
I finally have time to reply to your concerns. In our meeting I agreed that selecting an arbitrary number of 20 students for accelerated biology was not fair. I agreed to examine this and develop a process that would allow all students who meet a set criteria to be provided the accelerated biology class. I used two sections as an example. Obviously it would be just as wrong to set an arbitrary 2 sections as it would be to set 20 as an arbitrary number. Our intent was to set a cut score on the placement test and allow everyone who met the cut score to be enrolled in the class. After reviewing the previous years test data we selected the mean score of the last student admitted over the past several years. I understand that you believe that is not the way to select. However, I am very comfortable with this approach and approved it as the means of selecting who can be enrolled. Thank you for your continued concern about these issues. Please feel free to bring to my attention any other inequities that you see in our curriculum.
I quickly replied, twice. Here is my first reply (6/13):
Quickly, I have one question, Art (and will likely write more later). Each year, four slots are reserved for additional students to get into the Accel Bio class in the fall. These might be students who are new to the District, who didn’t know about the screening test in the spring, or who want to try again.
Were the screening test scores of students admitted into the class in the fall included in the selection system used on this year’s 8th graders?
(SIS readers, the reason why it is important to know if the fall scores were included is that it is highly likely that the scores of the students who enter the class in the fall are lower than the cut score used for selection purposes in the spring. It is simply too hard to believe that four students scoring higher than the cut score would magically appear each fall.)
Art wrote back simply (6/13):
There are two slots remaining.
I wrote back again (6/13):
My question is about the set of scores that were used to determine the cut score for this year. Were the scores of students admitted into the class in the fall over the past several years included in the set of scores used to determine this year’s cut score?
Art, parents would like to see all of the test scores from recent years — that is, we would like to see the frequency distribution of all scores for each year, with the cut score indicated and the scores of the fall entires into the class included.
Meanwhile, my second initial email (6/13) consisted of a forward to Art of the email he wrote to me on February 12, with a cover line:
Art, see below. FWIW, there is no ambiguity or equivocation in your email here. –L
Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 08:04:40 -0600
From: “Art Rainwater”
To: “Laurie A. Frost”
Subject: Re: West HS follow-up: Accelerated Biology
We have followed up with Ed and there will be an additional Advanced Biology class.
After seeing a copy of his own email, Art replied (6/13):
Creating two accelerated biology classes solely for the sake of having 40 students taking the class is no different than having a class for 20 students arbitrarily selected. If you feel that I broke some promise to you based on this email I am sorry. The responsibility for these decisions is mine and I am going to make the one that I feel is in the best interest of the district. I believe this decision is fair and removed the arbitrary nature of the previous class selection.
My decision is final.
I have not yet written back, but here is what I will say: “Art, I do feel you broke your promise to me. I also feel you broke your promise to future West HS students. Selection based on high scores is not “arbitrary.” And 40 is no more or less “arbitrary” a number than 20. “Arbitrary” means “for no particular reason.” But you had a reason. For whatever reason, you (or someone) wanted to make sure there was only one section of the class after all. If you (or that same someone) had wanted there to be two sections of the class, then you (or they) would have come up with selection criteria designed to insure that outcome.”
Meanwhile, I forwarded Art’s emails to the three other West parents who attended the meeting with him in January. To a one, we recall the same thing very clearly, that Art agreed there should be a second section of Accelerated Biology at West due to consistently high interest and demand at the school and in order to create greater access to a particular learning opportunity, the same expanded access there is at the other high schools. My best guess is that Art ran into unanticipated and powerful opposition to a second section in some key places at West and so is now changing his story.
In my mind, I keep going back to how poorly the Accelerated Biology screening test was publicized at Hamilton; how the Hamilton staff were told by the West counselors to “downplay” the opportunity to the students; and how that West staff person responded so carefully, “IF there is need for a second section, then the current teacher has been asked to teacher it.” All that, combined with a selection procedure that so clearly guaranteed only one section’s worth of eligible students (a point that no teacher or administrator seems to understand).
Now I’m hearing that at least some parents of students who did not get into the class are reluctant to say anything because they fear repercussions from the West staff.
Mission accomplished? I guess so, though it depends on what your mission is.
Interestingly, today’s SLC grant focus group at West included a long discussion of the fact that we have no PTSO officers for next year and what sort of parental frustration and dissatisfaction with the school might account for that.