West HS English 9 and 10 Again — No Child Moves Ahead

Several of us received the following email today from Ted Widerski, MMSD TAG (“Talented and Gifted”) Resource Teacher for Middle and High Schools. Ted has been working with other District and West HS staff to find a way to allow West 9th and 10th graders who are advanced in English to grade accelerate in English, whether through the INSTEP process or some other method.
Here is what he wrote:

Parents –
On Wednesday, April 12th, Welda Simousek and I met with Pamela Nash, Mary Ramberg, Mary Watson-Peterson, Ed Holmes, and Keesia Hyzer to discuss In-STEP procedures for students in English 9 and/or 10. Through this discussion, it became clear that there was no reasonable method available at this time to assess which students might not need to take English 9 or 10 because part of what is learned in English classes comes through the processes of analysis, discussion, and critical critiquing that are shared by the entire class. An alternative assessment approach was discussed: having students present a portfolio to be juried. This approach would require a great deal of groundwork, however, and would not be available yet this spring. It will be looked at as a possibility for the future.
Please keep in mind that it is the intention of West High School to offer meaningful and challenging English courses for all levels of students. It is also the usual TAG Classroom Action Summary and In-STEP approach to have students be present in a classroom for a period of time before it is possible to assess whether they are extremely beyond their classroom peers and need a different option. Welda will follow up with teachers and students in the fall to ascertain progress for students during the first semester. The use of the Classroom Action Summary and In-STEP approach (with a brainstorming of possible options) will be reviewed again at the end of semester one.
Please feel free to contact me with further questions.

Ted Widerski
Talented and Gifted Resource Teacher
Madison Metropolitan School District

I replied to Ted (copying many others, including parents, Teaching and Learning staff, Art Rainwater, Pam Nash, the BOE, and West HS staff), saying that this is a case of unequal access to appropriate educational opportunities because of how poorly West HS provides for its 9th and 10th graders who are academically advanced in English, as compared to the other three high schools.
Here is my reply:

Dear Ted,
Thanks for your email and update. I agree with the other parent who wrote to you that this outcome is very disappointing. I second his concerns and his several requests. I would like to ask that you please send your replies and future updates to this entire list.
I am especially distressed by this outcome because it means that academically advanced ninth and tenth graders at West will continue to have fewer appropriate educational options than their counterparts at the other three MMSD high schools. Below is a list of what is offered to and required of high school freshman and sophomores at our four high schools in their first two years of English.
Note: Required courses offered are listed first; electives are listed in parentheses; classes intended for academically advanced students are listed in bold.

Ninth Grade English
East: English 9, special section of English 9 for those enrolled in Reading 180, English 9 for the Academically Motivated, English 9 for Talented and Gifted
LaFollette: English 9; Advanced English 9
Memorial: English 9 (In addition to English 9, Memorial freshmen may elect to take a .25 credit course in the Humanities Department entitled “Interdisciplinary TAG.”)
West: English 9
Tenth Grade English

: English 10, English 10 for Academically Motivated, English 10 for Talented and Gifted (Electives available to 10th graders = Introduction to Journalism, Theater Arts)
LaFollette: English 10, Advanced English 10 (Electives available to 10th graders = Creative Writing, Advanced Creative Writing, Writing for the Media)
Memorial: English 10, English 10 TAG (Electives available to 10th graders = Drama 1, Drama 2, Reading Improvement)
West: English 10 (Electives available to 10th graders = Writing for Publication; Language, Usage and Grammar; Contemporary Literature; Dramatic Literature; The Bible as Literature; Science Fiction; Film Study; Public Speaking; Theater Arts I; Mass Media)
In my humble opinion, the disparity between West HS and the other three high schools with regard to the learning opportunities provided for the highest achieving 9th and 10th graders in English constitutes a situation of gross inequity of educational opportunity and access across the District. It makes it hard to believe that “it is the intention of West High School to offer meaningful and challenging English courses for all levels of students,” as you say in your email.
I think it is time to revisit the possibility of having honors sections of English 9 and English 10 at West H.S. — perhaps one section per SLC — into which West students may self-select. In the absence of said honors sections, West 9th and 10th graders who are academically advanced and highly motivated in English are being deprived of the educational opportunities that are available at every other high school in the District. Meanwhile, parents of high achieving middle and elementary school students in the West attendance area continue to make their decisions about where to live and where to send their children to school (especially high school).
Thanks so much for your efforts in this matter, Ted. I appreciate how hard you worked on this issue. I also fully realize that there is only so much that you — as an individual and as an educational professional who so clearly cares about academically advanced students — can do.
Laurie Frost