The following letter was hand delivered to Shwaw Vang a week ago, and email copies were sent to the Board, Superintendent Rainwater, and Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash. There so far has been no response. A follow up email was sent yesterday to the Performance and Achievement Committee again asking that they look into why the English 9 curriculum has not worked in raising student achievement before allowing West High School to implement changes in the 10th grade English curriculum.
We are writing to you in your capacity as Chair of the BOE Performance and Achievement Committee to ask that you address a critical situation currently unfolding at West High School.
Enclosed you will find a copy of a report entitled “Evaluation of the SLC Project at West High School,” written by SLC Evaluator Bruce King and dated November 2, 2005. The report focuses on the West administration’s plans to overhaul 10th grade English.
For many years West sophomores — like West juniors and seniors — have chosen their English courses from an impressive list of electives that range in content and difficulty level. According to the report, the overarching reason for changing the existing system for 10th grade English is the concern that the elective structure contributes to unequal educational opportunities across different student groups. Specifically, there is concern that some groups of students do not sign up for the more rigorous, higher level electives. There is also concern that some West students complete their English credits without taking any literature courses. In essence, the proposal makes 10th grade English a lot like English 9 — a standardized curriculum delivered in heterogeneous classes. The thing is, English 9 has not had the desired effect on these indicators of student achievement.
When you read the report, you will discover that English 9 — which has been in place at West for several years — has not done much to close the gap in achievement in English among West students. Thus the report recommends that “ongoing critical reflection and analysis of both the 9th and 10th grade English courses [is] needed [in order to] address … concerns [such as] the failure rate for 9th grade English and which students are failing [because] it is not clear if a common 9th grade course has helped close the achievement gap” (emphasis added).
The report also states that “in addition, an action research group might be formed to evaluate the 9th grade course, including levels of expectations and differentiation, failure rates by student groups, and the extent to which it has helped or hindered students to take challenging English courses in subsequent years. Apparently, it hasn’t helped some groups of students that much (emphasis added). Why? What needs to be changed so it does, and so the 10th grade course does, as well?”
In a word, we find it unconscionable to think that the West administration would expand a program into the 10th grade that has so clearly failed to achieve its objectives in the 9th grade. We can’t help but suspect that a look at the hard data would convince any reasonable person that the appropriate and responsible course of action, at this juncture, would be to figure out why English 9 hasn’t worked and fix it before making any changes to the 10th grade curriculum.
As Chair of the Performance and Achievement Committee, would you please take responsibility for obtaining from the MMSD Research and Evaluation Department the 9th grade data that goes along with the above statements from the report? Would you also please make these data public and schedule a public discussion of them at a Performance and Achievement Committee meeting?
We must stress to you the time urgency of this matter. At the November 7 West PTSO meeting — when the West administration and English Department first introduced the proposal for English 10 — it was mentioned that the West course catalogue is due at the printer in December. This leaves very little time for the public discussion that should have been an essential element of this curriculum change process. Consequently, we ask that you please obtain the data and hold a public discussion of them immediately.
Many thanks for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.
Laurie Frost, Jeff Henriques, Larry Winkler, Jim Zellmer, Joan Knoebel, Michael Cullenward, Ed Blume, Kathy Riddiough, Jane Doughty, Janet Mertz, Stephanie Stetson, Nancy Zellmer, Jan Edwards, and Don Severson
Link to the SLC report: http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2005/11/evaluation_of_t.php